Sports: NASCAR's Drug-Testing Policy
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Fans of sports like baseball and football and cycling and track have long been accustomed to news of their favorite athletes failing drug tests. Well now, auto racing fans can debate the issue, too. Late last week, a NASCAR driver and team owner named Jeremy Mayfield received a suspension under the sport's new drug use policy.
And joining me now is regular Friday guest, sportswriter Stefan Fatsis.
STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Robert.
SIEGEL: How is it that NASCAR, one of the most popular sports in America, is just getting around to testing its athletes for drugs?
FATSIS: Well, NASCAR has had random drug testing in the past but usually for drivers who were suspected of substance abuse. This year is the first mandatory testing policy that the sport has ever had, which, given what other sports have gone through and what NASCAR has gone through, is surprising.
A couple of years ago, a NASCAR truck series driver named Aaron Fike said he competed in a race under the influence of heroin, and just last week, a former NASCAR driver named Kevin Grubb, who had had drug problems, was found dead after apparently shooting himself. Grubb had been suspended indefinitely by NASCAR in 2006 for refusing a test after a wreck during a race.
SIEGEL: Well, Jeremy Mayfield tested positive after a race in Richmond, Virginia two weekends ago. Do we know what he tested positive for?
FATSIS: No. NASCAR will not say, and that is part of the problem, I think, with its policy. NASCAR hasn't even given drivers a list of banned substances. It says that that permits it greater leeway in testing.
Now, that just wouldn't fly in another sport, and it does seem like NASCAR is leaving itself open to legal challenges here. And you've got to consider the sport itself. Safety is paramount in NASCAR. You've got 43 people driving 3,400-pound cars upwards of 180 miles per hour. That's heavy traffic, and that raises another issue.
Mayfield was allowed back on the track with other drivers a few days after he had been informed of his positive test but while his second sample was being tested for confirmation. That certainly could be viewed as potentially risky.
SIEGEL: Well, some notable differences between NASCAR and many other sports is there's no league, and there's no players' union.
FATSIS: No. NASCAR is a corporation, and each racing team is a private company. There have been attempts in the past by drivers to unionize, back in the 1960s mostly, but those were crushed by NASCAR's leader, Bill France. The difference today, of course, is that NASCAR has become a lucrative sport. The drivers and car owners profit handsomely, and NASCAR has been responsive to drivers' needs and requests, but it does get more complicated when it comes to issues like drug testing and you see that in the Mayfield case.
SIEGEL: Now, NASCAR moves on to Charlotte this weekend, and the other brand of racing, open-wheeled Indy cars, is also in the news. The final round of qualifying for this year's Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for tomorrow.
FATSIS: Weather permitting. The final 11 slots in the 33-car race have to be filled. We already know that Helio Castroneves will have the pole position at the race, which is a week from Sunday, and this is just a few weeks after he was acquitted of tax evasion charges in a trial in Miami. Danica Patrick will start 10th in the race, and still attempting to qualify is John Andretti.
He's been in the race many times before, but this year marks a first, a one-time partnership between the Andretti family and NASCAR legend Richard Petty. He's lending his car, Number 43, to an Indy car for the first time. The Indy 500 has declined in popularity and stature in recent years. Petty's role is supplying a media boost.
SIEGEL: Finally, in some non-vehicular sports notes, big weekend for the NBA and also for thoroughbred racing, the Preakness.
FATSIS: Yes. The second race of the Triple Crown. Rachel Alexandra trying to become the first filly since 1924 to win that race. She didn't race in the Kentucky Derby, but she will be ridden tomorrow by Calvin Borel, the jockey who won that incredible Kentucky Derby on Mine That Bird, who is also entered in the Preakness.
And then in the NBA, two seventh and final games in the conference semi-finals on Sunday. The defending champion Boston Celtics host the Orlando Magic. The Los Angeles Lakers host the Houston Rockets. The respective winners get to play the Cleveland LeBrons and the Denver Nuggets.
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SIEGEL: Thank you, Stefan.
FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's Stefan Fatsis, who joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.
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