Expert questions lack of banned substances list in new drug policy
DOVER, Del. -- NASCAR drew accolades throughout the garage Saturday at Dover International Speedway, when it introduced a new substance-abuse policy that calls for random drug testing for drivers, over-the-wall crew members and officials throughout its top three series.
But one of the country's foremost authorities on substance abuse is concerned that the policy does not include a specific list of banned substances.
"This is way too loosey-goosey," said Dr. Charles Yesalis, a Penn State professor who has written several books on performance-enhancing drugs and testified before Congress on legislation related to the control of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone abuse.
"Red flags in my mind come up all over the place," Yesalis said. "There has to be a hard and fast list. No ifs, ands or buts. Without it, they can give somebody a pass on something. Nobody does it that way."
I felt like that was the weakest part of what we were doing. Joe Schmo didn't know what we were doing for a drug-testing policy. Now it's very open and everybody knows that it's taken care of.
--Driver and team owner Kevin Harvick
Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's vice president of racing operations and the point person on the policy, said the lack of a specific list allows NASCAR to test for abuse of all substances.
"We think we have the broadest policy in all of sports," he said. "As you've seen in other leagues, the list is constantly changing."
Dr. David L. Black, president of AEGIS, the independent laboratory that will conduct NASCAR's tests, argued most sports have specific lists because they are focused on preventing illegal and performance-enhancing drugs.
He reminded that NASCAR has larger safety issues and something such as a tranquilizer that may be legal in some sports would be detrimental to racing. "We feel we need to leave the program more open-ended," Black said. "We have a very comprehensive plan in place."
Yesalis still believes that opens the door for legal problems.
"Everybody has a list that everybody agrees on," he said. "Otherwise, you could take something totally ignorant and they could get you for it. I'm sorry. That makes me feel unbelievably uncomfortable.
"A lot of these drivers are very wealthy. One of their lawyers would be licking their chops on that."
Otherwise, Yesalis applauded NASCAR on the new policy, which calls for mandatory preseason testing, and random tests throughout the year beginning on Jan. 1. 2009.
Teams from every series also must verify that all licensed crew members have been tested by a certified lab prior to the season.
Under the previous policy, testing was done on the basis of "reasonable suspicion," and the tests were conducted by NASCAR. A number of Cup drivers and crew members who had been in the sport more than five years say they never were tested under that policy.
"This is very public now and very open," said Kevin Harvick, who implemented a similar program for his Nationwide and Truck Series teams in May after Truck Series driver Aaron Fike admitted he competed in several races while under the influence of heroin.
"I felt like that was the weakest part of what we were doing," Harvick said. "Joe Schmo didn't know what we were doing for a drug-testing policy. Now it's very open and everybody knows that it's taken care of."
NASCAR officials held a mandatory meeting at 10:30 a.m. ET in Dover's Nationwide garage to inform drivers and team owners of the policy. A similar meeting was held for the Truck Series personnel in Las Vegas.
Overall, the policy is more in line with those of other major sports.
"It adds credibility to the sport," driver Dave Blaney said.
Denny Hamlin agreed.
"It's going to be a good thing for NASCAR," he said. "They've preached about being a clean sport and this is a way of backing it up."
Hamlin was particularly glad that the new policy includes crew members.
"If you're going to say you're a clean sport, you have to have it through the entire sport," he said. "You just can't have it with your driver. . . . I like it more that we're making sure there's nothing being abused on pit road. That more than anything worries me. It's not necessarily the guys we race against."
Kyle Petty is glad to see NASCAR being pro-active on a subject that people like his father, seven-time champion Richard Petty, would "laugh their ass off talking to you about this stuff, all the while sitting here with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth."
"The organization in the past has always been a reactive organization," Kyle Petty said.
Team owner Jack Roush said the policy is "late coming."
"My engineering business and my far-flung racing activities, we've had random drug testing of our own for at least a decade," he said. "The public conscience requires it. We've got, I think, the cleanest national sport in the country, but we have instances where people, no doubt, with some attention being brought to them who have violated the trust.
"As that becomes clearer, we need structure and rules that would preclude that, police it."
The focus of the tests will be on narcotics, beta blockers and steroids. AEGIS will be at the track almost every race weekend to administer the random tests, which will be determined by numbers on a computer.
O'Donnell said anywhere from 12 to 14 crew members per series will be tested each weekend, and that an average of two drivers per series will be tested. Some could be tested more often, with "reasonable suspicion" still a part of the policy.
O'Donnell said three failed tests would result in an automatic lifetime ban from the sport. He said the governing body also reserves judgment to impose a lifetime ban after one failed test, which already includes automatic suspension that often lasts a year or more.
He added that refusing to take a test or failure to show up for one would count as a failed test.
There are provisions in the policy, as there always have been, for drivers to notify NASCAR when they are taking a prescribed medicine that may show up on a test.
"The tests we do are very comprehensive and very expensive," Black said. "NASCAR has made a significant commitment financially. They're putting in place a very aggressive program to protect the sport, participants and the fans."
O'Donnell said the timing of the new policy was not the direct result of Fike's case or the recent admission of Truck Series driver Ron Hornaday that he used testosterone obtained from a Florida clinic that pleaded guilty to criminal charges resulting from its online sale of prescription drugs.
"We just think it's the right program at the right time to put into place," O'Donnell said. "Everything evolves. To maintain the integrity and safety of the fans we needed to do this to make our policy even stronger."
ESPN's Angelique Chengelis contributed to this report. David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.