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 Columns & Editorials

July 19, 2007

Is Racing Clean And Sober?

by BJ Cavin

With the recent events surrounding NASCAR Craftsman Truck driver Aaron Fike and his fiancee, the subject of drug use and racing is again at the forefront in the racing media. NASCAR officials state openly that they believe there is no drug problem in NASCAR, but there has been more than one incident where a driver has trashed a career over substance abuse, and a couple more where the driver got a second chance.

NASCAR refuses to impose any sort of random drug testing for it's drivers, saying that there is no reason to do so. But some drivers disagree, and Kevin Harvick recently told the media that he supports at least two random drug tests per year for all NASCAR drivers. Harvick's stance is fueled by his wish that even the possibility of a problem be eliminated before it can occur, and he says the drivers and crews owe it to the fans and the sponsors to prove that they are racing clean and sober.

But what about your local speedway? Could there be a local driver or two that possibly could have a drug problem, and could that problem put that racer or others at risk?

Go to almost any local racing facility across America and you will find a wide variety of rules in place to deal with racers and substance abuse, but typically the only substance those rules are meant to control is alcohol. And when you think about it, alcohol is probably the major threat when it comes to racing because it and racing seem to be almost synonymous.

One can find tracks where alcohol consumption is strictly prohibited in the pit areas and where no one else on the premises is allowed to consume alcohol while holding a pit pass. On the flip side of that I have personal experience with visiting a track years ago where there was as much alcohol being consumed in the pit area as there was in the grandstands.

Times have changed somewhat since then, but there are still tracks where drivers can leave the pits and purchase alcohol. And when you consider the possibilities there is no way to prevent a driver from drinking before coming to the track, or to prevent them from sneaking alcohol into the pit area either. There is always a possibility for a driver to get onto the track after consuming something that they should not.

So what happens if a driver is suspected of abusing alcohol or other drugs while racing? In most cases where a driver is reported to have been drinking in the pits before a race, the process usually involves everything from observing the accused to actually confronting them.

But unless someone is caught red handed or is obviously impaired, there are virtually no policies in place that dictate how to proceed. In the end it becomes a judgement call made by track officials as to whether the accused participant should be allowed to race or not, and with no way to physically test the driver on site the likelihood of mistakes being made is real.

An innocent driver might be sent away in the interest of safety while a impaired driver who appears alright could be allowed onto the track. And in cases where a driver may have an ongoing issue with substance abuse, local racing facilities have few options to exercise short of simply banning the driver.

Drug tests could be required in order for the driver to be allowed back onto the track, but those cost hundreds of dollars and the track could find itself a target for legal action should that process somehow not go as planned.

In one incident I remember from years ago, a driver was accused of being "coked up" before a race. With no obvious signs of any sort of impairment visible and no way to test the driver, he was allowed to race. But later on he was suspended for conduct on the track and again the accusations surfaced. The track then asked the driver to submit to a drug test to clear the air and prove that he was clean and sober, but the driver refused. At that point the track made the move to not allow him to race until such time as he submitted to the test, and he never did, nor did he race again. Guilty or not, the problem was solved.

If drivers or fans at a particular track are concerned about drug or alcohol use at their home track, it is always best to address those concerns to the management or owners of the facility. Some tracks have a written policy that fans and drivers can read while others do not, but most tracks will openly state their stand on the subject if asked. And virtually all will state that it is imperative that all drivers be clean and sober before going racing, and would take some sort of action should the situation warrant. One would be hard pressed to find a speedway today where no one cared if the drivers were drinking or not.

But if you ask track officials, drivers, and fans, you will find that the vast majority do not feel like there is a need for drivers to prove their sobriety before racing, nor is there a need for any sort of random testing policy at local tracks.

This is because most believe that there is no problem with drug or alcohol abuse in racing. Individual incidents will continue to be dealt with by race officials as they see fit, and unless an overall problem becomes apparent there appears to be no reason for anyone to panic and impose invasive looks into drivers' privacy or extra expenses on the tracks.

Of course it is important that drivers be clean and sober before racing in the interest of safety, but virtually no one believes that substance abuse poses any serious threat to other drivers, the officials, or to the fans, at most local speedways in America today.

If you would like more information on the policies regarding drugs and alcohol at a particular track or in a racing series, it is always best to contact those who are in charge and directly question them on the subject.

Although most of us agree that substance abuse is not a problem in racing, we all know just as well that it can and will happen if we allow it to, and the results could be deadly.

Have an opinion on this story? Post a message on our Message Board!
or send a letter to the editor!



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