The bad news is that a NASCAR driver admitted he used drugs.
The good news is that it’s so shocking.
Unlike most other pro sports, drug use in NASCAR is so rare that it’s stop-the-press news when it happens.
That was the case with the recent revelation that Aaron Fike, a journeyman driver in NASCAR’s third-tier truck series, had used heroin.
Fike confessed that he once used the poison on the same day he raced.
Fike is, of course, out of racing – likely forever. Other drivers who messed with drugs – perhaps a half-dozen in the past two decades – vanished quickly and permanently.
NASCAR, unlike the NFL or major league baseball, has a zero tolerance when it comes to drugs. It doesn’t give unlimited second chances, which is understandable.
If other athletes are impaired, they may drop a pass or strike out. If a race driver is doped up he’s liable to kill himself and take a lot of other people with him.
NASCAR insists it has a reliable drug-prevention policy in place. It says it conducts random tests of its drivers, based on “reasonable suspicion.”
But it’s not fool-proof. Fike was able to slip through the NASCAR net and keep on racing while using drugs.
That fact sent a collective shiver through the NASCAR garage. Some drivers, such as Kevin Harvick, expressed doubt that NASCAR was doing enough to protect them.
Several veteran racers said they’d never been drug-tested – not once in their entire careers.
In the wake of the Fike revelation that has to change. NASCAR needs a better policy.
Waiting until there is “reasonable suspicion” to test a driver for drugs is too late. The first warning sign might be when he kills somebody.
Several years ago I became acquainted with a promising young local driver who had a bright future. He seemed like a great kid, bright and personable. One day I picked up the paper and read that he’d been busted for drugs.
He later explained how he had become immersed in personal problems and turned to drugs as an escape. He’d been using for almost a year, all while he was racing.
During the decades when other sports were embroiled in drug problems, some of us smugly felt that NASCAR was immune. We were wrong.
NASCAR’s drug policy has some big holes in it. Like dealing with the drugs themselves, the first step in fixing it is to admit there’s a problem.