Every so often NASCAR has a watershed moment that forever changes the operation of the sport. Joe Weatherly’s death in 1964 led to nets in the driver side window, Fireball Roberts death in 1964 led the fuel cell and of course the death of Dale Earnhardt led to all around safety changes. This week the admission from former Truck Series driver Aaron Fike that he used heroin before the Memphis race will hopefully serve as another one of those moments.
Fike’s story is not unique and in fact wasn’t even unique to last season. Bill Davis driver Tyler Walker was suspended after testing positive for using marijuana and cocaine; it is not exactly clear whether he used before races. Shane Hmiel is the extreme case of drug use in the sport after he failed three separate drug tests and was banned from the sport for life.
The interesting thing about this type of drug use and the drug use in other major sports is that this is in no way performance enhancing. In fact it is really performance inhibiting. The guys dealing with this are battling addiction; they’re not trying to improve themselves. It is serious and it is scary to think that on any given weekend someone is climbing behind the wheel of a race car intoxicated.
As someone who grew up in the area I can say that I have had friends and acquaintances who have battled addictions and/or have used recreationally. The Mooresville/Lake Norman area is a prime place for it. There is money, and there is youth and that is a dangerous combination when you have someone already fostering a habit or someone willing to try something new. The ESPN article points out that all of the drivers caught were under the age of 27, and this is not surprising. It comes down to young kids having too much time and money on their hands and an endless supply available to them.
Obviously at this point the selective testing that NASCAR is doing is not really working. While they caught Walker and Hmiel through the testing they didn’t catch Fike. And if the crew members and management at Red Horse are telling the truth they had no idea. There are 36 races this season and NASCAR should be testing at at least 5 of them. Make it random and spread it through the year and drivers will be much less willing to use. Also test crew members, or make it mandatory for the teams they work for to do random testing. Just like you shouldn’t be getting in a car if you’ve been using, you shouldn’t be stepping off the wall.
NASCAR’s got a problem and I guess only time will tell if they are going to do anything about it. I hope that it doesn’t take someone getting in a car high and hurting themself or someone else for NASCAR to do what needs to be done.