Are drugs a problem on NASCAR's crews?

August 12, 2011

Rules keep it clean

Dave Fairbank

Newport News

Daily Press

It probably lies somewhere between a Latter-day Saints church retreat and world-class cycling. Two guys pinched for selling weed, out of hundreds of pit jockeys and wrench-turners, isn't exactly cause for alarm. That said, in just about any population sample from the planet's wealthiest and most pharmacologically dependent society, there's going to be a notable number of recreational users.

NASCAR is particularly sensitive to "drug problems" because of the family-friendly image it cultivates and the potential for injury in a sport built on speed. Team employees are subject to random drug tests at least once a year. Without a union, everyone complies, and the garage stays cleaner than most. Now, if you consider alcohol and caffeine drugs, then we're into a whole new discussion …

Just 2 bad apples for now

George Diaz

Orlando Sentinel

Unless you hired private investigators to trail everybody on the circuit, there's no way of knowing who is doing what with their leisure time.

But the arrest of two Earnhardt Ganassi Racing employees earlier this week isn't about two guys partying a little bit too much. They were into something far more than a good time.

The front tire changer on Juan Pablo Montoya's team was charged with trafficking marijuana, among other charges.

The other guy, a mechanic, was charged with trafficking marijuana and possession with intent to sell about 101/2 pounds of marijuana that had been shipped out of California.

It's hard to indict a whole sport based on the poor choices of two individuals.

Percentage small

Shawn Courchesne

Hartford Courant

That's like asking how big the drug problem is in any major league team sport. There is no easy way to answer it other than to say there is no evidence problems are greater in NASCAR.

Are there people in big time sports who use drugs? Absolutely. Are there some who don't get caught? Yes. Two crew members from a high-profile team were arrested Tuesday, but that is hardly an indicator of a culture of rampant drug use within the sport. That they had 10.5 pounds of marijuana and were charged with trafficking certainly didn't look good. But again it is two people.

Sure, numerous individuals in the sport have tested positive since NASCAR implemented mandatory drug testing before the 2009 season, but is it any different than in any other walk of life? The percentage is still small.

Zero tolerance a must

Jim Peltz

Los Angeles Times

The more salient question is whether NASCAR knows the full extent of the problem. The alleged violations of the two Earnhardt Ganassi employees were a relatively easy call because they were charged and arrested by police. NASCAR has strengthened its substance-abuse policy in recent years.

After former trucks series driver Aaron Fike revealed in 2008 that he used heroin before a race, the sanctioning body moved from testing mostly when there was "reasonable suspicion" to a policy more in line with other sports, including random testing during the season. That's led to discipline against several crew members.

But it goes without saying that in the dangerous world of motor sports, NASCAR must make sure that "zero tolerance" isn't just a slogan.

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