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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25 comments:

Ken said...

I would make the drug policy simple. I would have a mandatory drug test for any driver that either wrecks or wins. If you do it with no exceptions and it is administered independently with the tester having no idea as to who the test is for, it would be seen as fair (as if that ever mattered to NA$CAR).

Dot said...

What prompted the turn around?

I agree w/Ken, test after crashing or winning. If you get hurt on the job here in NV, they test you. Benefits denied if you test dirty.

Geez said...

If you test after a cash, that isn't doing much for prevention. It's a little late. Most large company's have random drug testing. Even for people who sit at a desk for a living.

It would seem to me that what the driver's do for a living poses a bit more danger working under the influence of drug's. A few of the team owner's have said they have testing, but not what type and whom they are testing.

I would think it would be the driver's employer who is responsible for random testing. Just like any other business. Only if there is a hesitance or refusal to do so should NASCAR become involved and basically say "Random test your drivers or your not racing".

majorshouse said...

This is not the first time that NASCAR has buried its head in the sand. A prime example was the safety issue especially where seat belts were mounted and the issue of the safer barriers and it took the death of Dale Earnhardt to open their eyes. I think it is time that Bryan France got his head out of the sand and really addressed this problema nd it is sad that a few team owners like Kevin Harvick have had to be so vocal int he media to even get NASCAR's attention.

majorshouse said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ken said...

Geez, Making the employer responsible would be the worst possible way to do it. The employer would not disclose a problem for fear of losing their sponsorship and/or their star driver. If they found drug use with one of NA$CAR's "stars" and didn't let him run or gave him other punishment, it would get out immediately.

If NA$CAR did random testing, do you really think it would be random? It has to be something that NA$CAR is unfamiliar with--"SET IN STONE". Maybe it should be set by qualifying. Every 5th or 4th or 8th or some number drawn from a hat after qualifying. That would make it random with no room for fudging.

Anonymous said...

This seems like more of a critique of NASCAS's policies and less of a review of a NASCAR broadcast. What say you, JD?

Daly Planet Editor said...

The non-event contingent of NASCAR TV is just as important as the networks providing the event coverage.

Neither the Nationwide or Truck Series have any TV programs dedicated to them, so shows like NN and RaceDay have to serve several purposes.

On interesting element should be if Tradin' Paint covers this subject, which they have avoided.

JD

Rockin Rich said...

Who is the guy in the UVA cap, (1st on left)? I think it may be the Busch driver accused a couple of years ago. I am not guessing his name because I don't want to wrongly associate a name I may be incorrect about.

red said...

i stated my opinion about nascar's drug testing policy several months ago in the linked blog column when the aaron fike article first appeared. i'm going to sit on my hands untili have the opportunity to read the policy released by helton et. al.

that being said: i continue to have a problem with helton talking about having "alot of latitude" and "we're going to broaden it." what i would suggest is that they work toward removing any ambiguity from the policy, make it consistent in its application and have clear and specific consequences. i'm not hearing that yet: the same soft and fuzzy terms continue to be quoted.

and in all honesty? i don't expect to read that the vague "policy" is being nailed down and will be exceedingly surprised if i do.

it is also pretty damning to me that fike says no one from nascar has been in touch with him since he was suspended. out of sight, out of mind?

Daly Planet Editor said...

rich,

The photos above represent the transition of Mr. Fike from a teenager to a healthy man in his 20's. Then, the heroin use (spoon) results in the mug shot that is next when he was arrested.

All three are Fike.

JD

Rockin Rich said...

JD @9:11 PM:

Thanks. That wasn't what I was thinking, as I stated in my post.

I had a Richmond, Va. area person in mind. Actually, now that I ponder on it, That guy might be back in racing at the regional level. If so, bringing up his name again serves no good purpose.

Lisa Hogan said...

I'm not sure why NASCAR would be expected to contact Fike. He's gone.

If someone is working to get back into NASCAR, then there is contact.

Quite frankly, I'm still on the fence about Fike's statement that he used heroin during a race. He had lied. So when does one believe any of his statements?

My opinion is not going to influence NASCAR policy one way or the other. I'm in a "wait and see" mode.

red said...

hey lisa! fike's been suspended, not banned, by nascar and has been working on getting reinstated by them. he's currently racing usac. that's a whole bunch different than shane hmiel, who's been banned for life and has no chance at ever racing in a nascar sponsored event again (altho' he, too is currently racing.)

given that nascar did not ban him, that he has undergone rehab and is being tested every week, i would have thought nascar would have at the very least kept in touch. guess not.

Daly Planet Editor said...

lisa,

Fike was arrested first and his team suspended him.

NASCAR never talked to him or did a follow-up about his circumstances while involved in the sport or at the track racing.

When McGee approached him, Fike was through rehab and working on putting things back together.

He did the interview to get the facts out and wake-up the slumber of denial by the NASCAR brass.

I think it did the job.

As was mentioned, Fike is currently sober and racing in the USAC series in the Midwest.

JD

Lisa Hogan said...

With all due respect, I say he's gone.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Well, it must be nice to come from a family where no one has ever had a drug or alcohol addiction issue.

I wish I could say the same.

JD

Lisa Hogan said...

JD-if that was aimed at me, I don't get the connection. I'm talking about one driver being out of NASCAR.

Daly Planet Editor said...

Lisa,

One part of a comprehensive addiction program is the pathway to a second chance.

We cannot judge how Fike got involved with this drug, we can only judge his commitment to recover and resume his life and career.

Perhaps, his presence in the NASCAR garage might serve as reminder of the fact that a second chance can turn someone's life completely around.

JD

Lisa Hogan said...

JD-
Since you know very little about me or my family, I thought your comment to me was hostile. All I did was post a comment about the column subject.

I posted my opinion that Fike is gone from NASCAR. This is not a personal wish. This is my opinion of NASCAR’s stance.

I will refrain from posting comments on any future drug related columns you might write.

Lisa

Anonymous said...

I've got to kind of agree, I don't see this as a media commentary, but a policy commentary. Either way, I'll bite and see if you understand my point.

NASCAR treads a fine line of mandating its "contestants" and "independent contractors" take drug tests. Think about it this way, you run a construction company and use a labor hall (Labor Ready) for your temporary employee needs. Why would you test those employees at a cost to you when you have no reason to believe the owners wouldn't test their drivers. What I'm getting at on this deal is NASCAR needs to be careful not to slip into a quagmire where the drivers are all of a sudden employees of NASCAR or dare I say, unionize. I don't think the new breed of drivers are as scared of the France family as the older drivers were of Big Bill in the Curtis Turner/Tim Flock/Teamsters days. When a driver 50th in points has winnings of over $750K where's the fear?

Now, that being said, I seriously doubt that Rick Hendrick and his dealerships; Penske and his people; Childress and his vineyard staff do not require drug testing in order to work. I know that for most reputable car dealerships down in Florida, they make you give a hair sample prior to employment. Why wouldn't the owners with so much riding on their reputations, not mandate testing for their crews, from the hauler driver to the stock car driver? NASCAR has had a very charmed life in its nearly 60 years. Between the Grant issue and others like sagging gate numbers, down tv numbers, boring racing, and now drug testing, it would behoove NASCAR to proact instead of sitting back. I know Helton like to say, "We're not going to react for the sake of acting" but to me, doing nothing is a hundred times worse.

Also, John, your shot at the one girl was rather petty. There's not one set way to rehabilitate drug abusers, alcoholics, kleptomaniacs, etc. Some need the nurturing Mother Hen treatment, others need the scared straight approach and there are many other ways people deal with these issues. Just because you have an issue in your family in my humble opinion does not give you the right to lash out at someone like that. I personally think Lisa is right in that Fike will likely be persona non grata in NASCAR garages. You see a big name owner who'd risk it all to sign him up? Hell, these guys won't touch drivers with multiple concussions like a Craven, Steve Park, or Jerry Nadeau, why the hell would they hire a drug addict. You're NEVER a recovered drug addict, just like you're NEVER a recovered alcoholic.

You know damn well NASCAR is a very narrow-minded community and when someone opens pandora's box and breaks the "what goes on in the garage stays in the garage" code, they are dead to everyone in the garage. I'm shocked he got into ARCA, but that's as high as he'll go unless you have an owner with a major set of brass ones

Anonymous said...

"Think about it this way, you run a construction company and use a labor hall (Labor Ready) for your temporary employee needs. Why would you test those employees at a cost to you when you have no reason to believe the owners wouldn't test their drivers."

Kinda got spun up in my rant. I meant to say why would a construction company test temporary employees, which esentially NASCAR drivers are, when the cost burden should be placed on the team owners?

Daly Planet Editor said...

Anon 2:53PM,

"There is not one set way to rehabilitate drug users."

There are thousands of rehab facilities across the nation that serve millions of Americans with addiction problems every year.

One of the reasons ESPN should have been vigilant in this cause is because ESPN has experienced a higher than normal rate of addiction over the years as a company.

If Fike had been tracked by NASCAR and brought back as someone who was actively in recovery, it would have set an example of NASCAR as a group in-tune with the times.

Instead, as France admitted, they are several years behind.

Lisa has very forceful opinions that I have always respected. In this case, I have one too.

In talking about his addiction, Fike said if NASCAR actively tested all three series it would be a surprise they would never forget.

Perhaps, in 2009 we will see if that happens before a life is lost.

JD

Anonymous said...

JD, no use preaching to a lot of the fans out there. Some people just are so damn lucky, as to having the "perfect family" tree.

I love the comment above about the "union" in Na$car...that really makes me laugh. As I have always said, Na$car just never does wrong, it's the rest of us that do..

I also agree about Brian France and how the drivers see him as to Bill and Grandaddy France would rip their a%%..

ronjudi said...

Maybe Nascar has been waiting for the major players (drivers and crew chiefs) to clean-up first.
this might hilight why some drivers and crew chiefs have been acting and performing different lately. JMO