Right call made on Hornaday; will right calls be made on testing policy?
NASCAR made the right call allowing Ron Hornaday to continue racing after he admitted taking steroids, but for medical reasons, writes David Newton. But the question remains whether NASCAR's soon-to-be-unveiled drug-testing policy will be effective.
LOUDON, N.H. -- NASCAR's decision not to penalize reigning Craftsman Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday for using a testosterone cream in the 2004 and 2005 seasons was the right call. The 50-year-old driver did not violate any rules because testosterone is not a banned substance under the sport's current drug policy.That the new policy that will be released in the next few weeks -- likely next weekend at Dover -- will contain language that would make testosterone, steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs illegal when not properly prescribed by a physician also is the right call.So whether Hornaday's situation has been overblown, as many are claiming, isn't the point.The point is NASCAR's policy of testing on "reasonable suspicion" is way outdated compared with those in other major sports. Unfortunately for the governing body, it didn't heed warnings a year ago when experts such as Dr. Charles Yesalis said the best defense is a good offense. Had NASCAR put into effect then a more stringent policy that demands random testing and has a broader range of banned substances, it wouldn't be as susceptible to criticisms that have come in the past few months.Before Hornaday, there was the admission of former trucks driver Aaron Fike that he was under the influence of heroin during several races last season.Where there are two examples, albeit NASCAR is satisfied Hornaday's decision to use testosterone was based on health reasons rather than on gaining a competitive advantage, there likely are more."They had a chance to be ahead of this," said Yesalis, a Penn State professor who has written several books on performance-enhancing drugs and testified before the U.S. Congress three times on legislation related to the control of anabolic steroids and growth hormone abuse."They're in the same position all other sports have been in. They wait until the public relations horse is out of the barn before they think about acting. It's regretful, but really they're not behaving any differently than all the other sports."Yesalis, an avid NASCAR fan, isn't suggesting the sport has a problem with performance-enhancing drugs. He's also not suggesting there isn't potential for problems in an arena where changing four tires in 14.4 seconds versus 14.6 or picking up a fraction of a second because the driver wasn't fatigued on Lap 400 isn't an advantage."People are realizing if you are more fit and stronger, both endurance and strengthwise even in the car, then in some of these grueling races and the length of the season and doing the testing and recovering from an exhausting race for the next one, it's beneficial," Yesalis said. "Do I think testosterone might have some advantage? Yeah, I do. We're talking about a sport where being one one-hundredth of a second faster is a big deal. Do I think it might improve performance by that percent or greater? Yes I do."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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