Monday, September 1, 2008
France Ready To Expand Drug Policy
When ESPN.com writer Ryan McGee penned a story about Aaron Fike, it took many fans and NASCAR team members by surprise. The words "heroin" and "NASCAR" had not really been heard together before. Click here to read the story.
When McGee appeared on ESPN2's NASCAR Now and spoke about the reality of this Craftsman Truck Series driver using illegal drugs on race day, it shook the sport to its core.
In a follow-up column (click here), we tried to motivate the NASCAR Now reporters to keep this story on the front burner. Unexpectedly, we got some very strong help from many Sprint Cup drivers who did not mince words when asking for a random testing policy on race weekends.
Owners like Rusty Wallace and Ray Evernham talked about their existing drug testing policies and how the world had changed from a time when hangovers from a late night at the bar were often a driver's only challenge.
The drivers recently banned for life or suspended from the sport are a diverse bunch. Their drugs of choice were also diverse. While this story had a shelf-life of a couple of weeks, it faded into oblivion because of NASCAR's stalling tactics where a modern drug testing policy was concerned.
One point to remember in all of this is how much time and effort ESPN recently spent on speculating about driver changes and posting "good guesses" online about where someone like Ryan Newman or Martin Truex Jr. was going just to "scoop" the competition.
The second point is how SPEED ignored the drug testing issue except for a brief mention on RaceDay and a comment on Wind Tunnel. SPEED has no dedicated news program that focuses on NASCAR during the week and on the weekend the focus is on the happenings at the racetrack.
Hopefully, the company where you work has a random drug testing policy and offers confidential assistance to those who fall into the pattern of addiction. Most of us had to be screened and agree to random testing even prior to our first entry-level jobs.
This issue is not about steroids. It is not about taking amphetamines before a race like baseball players do before a game. It is not about pain-killers for a nagging injury when an athlete makes the decision to take an injection and then play.
The question raised by McGee and pursued briefly by the media was about the use of illegal or prescription drugs and the effect on the workplace. In this case, the workplace happens to be going very fast and pit road happens to be very dangerous.
France talked to veteran reporter Jim Utter of thatsracin.com on Sunday. "We will be looking at broadening testing, even though we have a lot of latitude today," said France. "We're going to broaden it. The circumstances around all of sports have changed in the past three, four or five years. We need to be mindful of that."
As some media observers note, France and NASCAR have not been mindful of that in the past and were considering no changes until the ESPN the Magazine article and NASCAR Now appearance by McGee shocked the sport. Heroin is a strong word. It is made stronger when the addict was racing with the drug in his system in a top level professional NASCAR event.
Perhaps the E:60 news magazine or Outside the Lines program with Bob Ley would be a good place for France or Mike Helton to present themselves to the fans and explain what they are about to change for 2009 and why it took the media to force these changes.
Fike told McGee that no one from NASCAR had ever followed-up about his addiction problems since his heroin arrest. Maybe, the reality of random testing would have saved Fike's career. The one thing the arrest did trigger was a "moment of clarity" for NASCAR itself.
Now, Mr. France and the NASCAR executives are very slowly coming out of "denial" and being forced to deal with the reality of addiction for the first time. We wish them luck in their recovery.
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