NASCAR's Newest Substance Abuse Dilemma: Right To Appeal Vs. Safety

Mary Jo BuchananSenior Writer IMay 14, 2009

FONTANA, CA - FEBRUARY 20:  during Jeremy Mayfield, driver of the #41 All Sport Toyota, watches during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway on February 20, 2009 in Fontana, California.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

As if NASCAR did not have enough problems after the suspension of Cup driver Jeremy Mayfield for violation of the sport's substance abuse policy, a new issue facing the sport has just been revealed.

The Associated Press reports that because Mayfield appealed the results of his first drug test, NASCAR had to allow him to practice in two sessions, racing side by side with his fellow Cup competitors while awaiting results from the tests of his second sample.

Mayfield practiced for the Southern 500 while his "B" sample was being tested.  Although NASCAR put a rush order into the lab for the test results, they had no choice but to allow Mayfield onto the track in the interim while the results were being processed.

Upon being advised of the initial test result, Mayfield was allowed to exercise his right to appeal. Under NASCAR's policy, the driver cannot be penalized or prohibited from participating in the sport's events until the backup sample is also tested.

Dr. David Black, the supervisor of NASCAR's drug testing program, advised that "the practical reality is there is going to be a delay. In an ideal world, if the world were perfect and there was a possibility of an instant answer, we'd be able to take immediate action".

But NASCAR could not take immediate action in the Mayfield case and was forced to sit back and watch Mayfield take his car onto the race track for two practice sessions, as well as the qualifying session for the event at Darlington.

While NASCAR will not confirm the banned substance for which Mayfield was tested, Associated Press sources reveal that it was not a performance-enhancing drug.  NASCAR had also announced previously that Mayfield had not tested positive for alcohol.

Since alcohol and performing enhancement drugs have been ruled out, it would seem that the only other possibilities left would be prescription drugs, narcotics or other controlled drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, or methamphetamine.

To think that a race car driver, going over 150 miles per hour, might be on the track using any of these substances is downright frightening. Yet Mayfield was allowed to do just that, given NASCAR's appeal policy and the time involved in testing another sample.

NASCAR spokesperson Ramsey Poston advised that they were "in contact with Jeremy that day and there was no physical reason to believe he couldn't perform". 

Yet, given the initial results of the drug test for Mayfield, was it really safe to send him out on the track with other drivers going at those great rates of speed?

NASCAR is indeed different from other sports. If the NBA or the NFL or even the MLB suspected a player of violation of their substance abuse policy, it would not really matter if their players went out on the court or playing field awaiting their results.

But in NASCAR, there is a different situation. Drivers are wielding heavy machinery around a track at high speeds and in very close proximity to each other.

Any impairment, even of the slightest nature, could prove deadly on the track, to the driver as well as the fellow competitors. There also could be danger to the pit crews and even fans who often gather in the garage area during practice and qualifying.

So, how is NASCAR to balance a driver's right to appeal a potential substance abuse violation with the safety of all of the drivers, teams and fans on and off the track?

There are no easy answers to these questions, and unfortunately, the leadership of NASCAR will now have to wrestle with and come up with solutions for tough problems just like this newest one that has been presented in the Mayfield case.

Suspending a Cup level driver may not be the only "first" that NASCAR will face in the implementation of their new substance abuse policy. In fact, the "firsts" for NASCAR may just beginning as the saga of Jeremy Mayfield continues to unfold.

Sources:  Jenna Fryer and the Associated Press