Sports Drug Use: NASCAR

July 26, 2009


Generally speaking, NASCAR has simply not faced the issue of drug abuse like other professional sports. The most famous driver to be suspended due to a failed drug test was 13-time race winner Tim Richmond in 1988. Richmond started driving for Hendrick Motorsports and began building an impressive record on the circuit, and he was regularly listed on the nascar schedule. Richmond denied any drug use and his testimony was corroborated when it was found that his cold medication triggered the positive test result. Still, representatives of NASCAR managed to keep Richmond out from that time on. Richmond had lost weight due to an unknown illness, and unknown to NASCAR, he was dying from AIDS. NASCAR remained convinced that Richmond`s weight loss and other odd symptoms were caused by using drugs, and rumors supported this belief.

In 1989, Richmond passed away due to complications from AIDS.

In fact, in the two decades after Tim Richmond was banned from NASCAR, few drivers have been taken to task for illicit drug use. Aaron Fike, Tyler Walker, Kevin Grubb, and Shane Hmiel are all drivers that were suspended in the last few years. Grubb and Hmiel received lifetime bans after failing drug tests following reinstatements from a previous suspension due to drugs.

Hmiel is the son of racing mechanic Steve Hmiel, who has been involved with popular racing companies like Chip Ganassi Racing, Rousch Racing, and Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the last several years. Hmiel was one of the most talented up and comers earlier in the decade, but persistent drug use tarnished a promising career.

Grubb was another hot young driver back in the late 1990s. Grubb enjoyed moderate success in the Busch, now Nationwide Series before failing a drug test in 2003. He was reinstated in 2006, and suspended again in 2007. Just recently, in May 2009, Grubb shot himself in the head and and subsequently died of his injuries.

Driver Tyler Walker, who is friends with the Sprint Cup Series racer, Kasey Kahne, was suspended in 2006 for failing a drug screening. Currently, Tyler has not made any move to get reinstated.

For Aaron Fike, NASCAR suspended the driver from racing after a theme park arrest for heroin possession. While being interviewed by ESPN `The Magazine,` he admitted to heroin use on the day of a race. The interview was a wake-up call for NASCAR.

Until this latest racing season, NASCAR officials had reserved screenings for those drivers under suspicion for illicit drug abuse. NASCAR`s new drug policy includes random testing for all drivers and crewmembers during the driving season using third-party service Aegis Science Corp Labs, which is managed by Dr. David Black.

A small number of crewmembers have been suspended following positive drug test results.

On May 9, 2009 at Darlington Raceway, Jeremy Mayfield became the biggest name since Tim Richmond to receive an indefinite suspension after testing positive. Mayfield has said repeatedly that the positive test was caused by a combination of Claritin-D allergy medicine and an unnamed but legal prescription drug. Both Dr. Black and NASCAR have made it clear that they reject Mayfield`s claim.

Maintaining his innocence, Mayfield has hired lawyer Bill Dielh. There could be lawsuit against NASCAR impending.

NASCAR has yet to publicly reveal the substance in question, and until earlier this week, Mayfield claimed that he knew nothing of the substance in question. He and his lawyer received reports earlier in the week.

This case comes down one person`s testimony against another and it will be dealt with outside of the courtroom. This latest occurrence has brought negative attention to the sport of NASCAR. The bad press hasn`t made a serious impact on the nascar schedule. The coverage of Mayfield`s legal protests have sidetracked many notable events coming out of NASCAR that could mean some good press for a change. The simple fact is that drug scandals are not as common with NASCAR drivers as they seem to be with NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB athletes.

The random drug screening process is an improvement from the screening only on reasonable suspicion approach. However, NASCAR does not provide a list of banned substances, which is one major flaw in this process. NASCAR wants to be in control of what is and isn`t acceptable. By having the list available to drivers and crewmembers would help them to understand their limitations.

It should be crystal clear now that drugs are not allowed in NASCAR.

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