Sep 29, 2008
NASCAR's New Drug Policy Deserves PraiseBy JR Nerad
As folks who read this column frequently know, we are not afraid to criticize NASCAR, its decisions and its lack of decisions. We’ve taken on the organization when it came to drivers’ safety, Bill Simpson and his seat belts, and its desire to put “the show” ahead of real racing. But we are happy to report that NASCAR has made genuine strides in all those areas, often coming around to seeing it our way, and now we’re equally happy to report that the same is the case with drug testing.
Earlier this year we chided NASCAR for having a horse-and-buggy policy on drugs -- if its former approach could even be dignified by calling it a policy at all. When it was revealed that Craftsman Truck Series driver Aaron Fike had participated in several races while admittedly under the influence of heroin, it became obvious that this was not just a social and legal issue but also a serious safety issue. It was clear that NASCAR’s former stance of investigating for drug abuse after it had a suspicion of such behavior might well be too little too late.
The very good news is that NASCAR listened to its drivers, its crew chiefs and its owners -- and columnists like us -- and made a major change. Now, like the other major sports, NASCAR will have a substance-abuse policy that includes mandatory random drug tests for its drivers and for any crew members that “go over the wall” into harm’s way in pit lane.
NASCAR’s new policy -- which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2009 -- requires preseason testing and then will include random tests throughout the year. Licensed crew members must also be tested prior to the season opener by a certified lab. Personnel will be screened for use of narcotics, beta blockers and steroids, among other substances. Drivers and other personnel will be chosen by lot and required to submit to drug tests randomly. It is expected that a couple of drivers and about a dozen crew members will be tested each racing weekend in 2009. Three failed tests will result in an automatic lifetime ban from the NASCAR racing at any level, and potential lengthy suspensions are also part of the punishment scheme.
While the effort isn’t perfect, it is a giant step forward for NASCAR in an area that, sadly, requires more and more attention from us all. Congratulations, NASCAR, for getting it right.
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