- Shaun Assael, ESPN Senior Writer
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MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Over a two-year period from December 2004 to January 2006, Ron Hornaday, the defending champion of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, received shipments of testosterone and human growth hormone from an anti-aging center that has been linked to drug-related scandals in the NFL and Major League Baseball.
Hornaday acknowledged taking testosterone when shown records from the Palm Beach (Fla.) Rejuvenation Center during an interview at his home in North Carolina on Tuesday, but he denied using growth hormone that was sent to his home for his wife's use. Hornaday said he used the testosterone to treat a mysterious medical malady that later turned out to be a hyperactive thyroid. The drugs were shipped to Hornaday's address in Mooresville from the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center.
"I'd lost 38 pounds [in the 2004 season], and no doctor could tell me what was wrong," Hornaday said, adding that a friend encouraged him to consult with the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center. A local nurse came to his house to take his blood, he said, and forwarded the results to the clinic. Hornaday provided records to ESPN showing that the drugs were prescribed by doctors at the clinic within a day of that visit.
Hornaday, 50, is considered one of the best short-track racers in the sport. He is 94 points out of first place in this season's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series standings.
During the interview, Hornaday retrieved a 2-ounce tube from his house that was half-filled with a cream. The prescription label bore the name "testosterone," but was partially torn so that it did not show his name. The expiration date was listed as Sept. 29, 2007.
"I never knew that was a steroid," he said, pointing to the cream.
Hornaday said he didn't see or speak with a doctor before receiving the prescription, and initially insisted that he used it for only a week and stopped. Later, joined by his wife, Lindy, he changed the timeline and said he used it roughly every day for 13 months by rubbing a "pea-sized" dollop of it onto his thigh.
"I couldn't see a difference," he said. "That's why I stopped."
Added Lindy: "He never took it at the track. Only at home."
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said Wednesday that Hornaday had not informed anyone in the league that he was using testosterone and that officials would seek more information from him before the Camping World RV Rental 200 in New Hampshire this weekend.
"It's hard to see whether it's a violation or not," said Poston, who noted that NASCAR's drug-testing policy prohibits the abuse of all drugs. "There are certain prescriptions that drivers can take, and we look at them on a case-by-case basis. If it's not putting other drivers at risk or enhancing performance -- and it's used as intended -- we'll make determinations as they come up."
On Thursday, Poston issued a statement saying NASCAR officials would meet with Hornaday. The meeting is expected to take place Friday at New Hampshire International Speedway.
"NASCAR will meet with Ron to get a better understanding of his condition," Poston said. "Based on what we currently know, our outside experts have said the prescription he had did not enhance performance or impair judgment on the track. It's our understanding that Ron's very serious health issue is being addressed."
Unlike the NFL and MLB, NASCAR does not do mandatory drug testing. Instead, it tests when officials have "reasonable suspicion" that a driver or crew member is abusing prescription or other performance-enhancing drugs. Steroids and human growth hormone were specifically added to its list this year. Earlier this month, NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France said the organization will announce an expansion to its drug-testing policy in the near future.
Kevin Harvick, who owns the truck team on which Hornaday drives, defended his driver, even while acknowledging that Hornaday had not told him he was using the drug in 2005.
"Ron was sick. My wife DeLana and I could see it. And we got him help," Harvick said. "But before that, Ron sought other avenues of treatment. Did he use the [testosterone] cream? Yes. Did he use it to enhance his performance? No. I feel like he did everything right to take care of himself."
This spring, Harvick ordered mandatory drug tests for his four Nationwide and Truck series teams, including the one helmed by Hornaday. The racer acknowledged taking two drug tests for Harvick, saying he passed both. Hornaday said he stopped using the drugs in 2006 when a doctor finally diagnosed his hyperactive thyroid.
"Ron was worried he might have had cancer," Lindy said.
The Hornadays said the purchases were part of a hormone replacement therapy that is used by millions of Americans. The sole aim of the testosterone, Ron Hornaday said, was to nurse himself to health after his hormone levels dropped to dangerous lows. He insisted he got no performance-enhancing advantage.
"No one was trying to get big here," he said. "It was all legal."
But Mark Haskins, a senior investigator with the New York Department of Health who led an investigation into the Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center, disputes that contention.
"Steroids are a controlled substance," Haskins said. "A doctor has to prescribe them after an examination." The agent said Hornaday, like thousands of other patients from the rejuvenation center, could have been charged with illegal possession of a controlled substance. The reason no charges were lodged, he said, was that the investigation focused on the center's owners and doctors, not its customers.
The steroidal cream Hornaday received is a favorite of athletes because it is fast-acting and clears the body quickly. He also called the dosage that Hornaday received "an extremely high level."
Hornaday said he felt "no need to tell" officials in the sport and did not list testosterone on medical charts filled out by every driver before the season's first race in Daytona. He showed ESPN The Magazine his medical form from this season, in which he listed Synthroid, the radioactive thyroid medicine he currently uses.
Hornaday denied that he used the six 30-day supplies of growth hormone that also were sent to his house, saying they were for his wife. Lindy Hornaday, 49, confirmed that account and produced a plastic bag from their home containing a vial labeled as HGH, along with several syringes.
"This is the last of it I have," she said. "I threw the rest out when we were at Daytona a couple of years ago. It wasn't doing anything for me."
The clinic records show that Lindy Hornaday received three separate shipments of HGH in her name in 2005.
Haskins said that Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center was a favorite of athletes and bodybuilders because it provided easy and relatively anonymous service.
"I hesitate to even call it a clinic," Haskins said. "I haven't been able to find any evidence that any of its doctors actually saw patients. It was all done over the Web. They had salesmen with crib sheets that said, 'How not to take no for an answer.' The doctors were afterthoughts. They just signed the forms the salesmen sent them."
Haskins said the center was spending $30,000 a month on Internet advertising for steroids and growth hormone.
Robert Carlson, the doctor Lindy Hornaday said she talked with by phone, pleaded guilty in August 2007 to a felony count of insurance fraud after admitting to writing bogus prescriptions for clients, including athletes. The center's owners have pleaded guilty to related charges.
All were sentenced to probation and have rebranded the clinic as Nationwide Synergy. The Hornadays said they have started receiving calls from Nationwide in the past month, asking them to renew their orders.
"I told those people to stop calling us," Lindy said.
Last year, the NFL suspended two of the center's clients who admitted buying growth hormone: New England Patriots strong safety Rodney Harrison and Wade Wilson, the quarterbacks coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Another of the clinic's clients, then-Cleveland Indians pitcher Paul Byrd (now of the Boston Red Sox), was not disciplined by Major League Baseball because he received his final shipment of HGH a week before MLB banned the drug.
Hornaday, a native of Palmdale, Calif., was brought into the Craftsman Truck Series by Dale Earnhardt in 1995. He quickly established himself as a hard charger, winning the title in 1996 and again in 1998.
He also developed a reputation for humility and charity, often mentoring younger racers. He let two future Sprint Cup stars, Jimmie Johnson and Harvick, sleep on his couch when they made the jump from California to North Carolina.
But by 2000, at age 42, Hornaday's career seemed to be going in the wrong direction. Earnhardt, who hired him to run in the Nationwide Series that year, released him rather than elevate him to the premier Sprint Cup Series.
Hornaday knocked around, taking a job with an underfinanced team in 2001 that left him 36th in the Cup standings and filling in for other teams as needed. He got a boost when Richard Childress hired him to return to the Nationwide Series, where he finished third in 2003 and fourth in 2004. But in November 2004, Childress replaced him with the younger Clint Bowyer.
At that point, Hornaday reached out to Palm Beach Rejuvenation Center, its records show. According to a manifest, his first shipment arrived at his North Carolina home at roughly the same time he accepted an offer to drive in the truck team owned by Harvick in mid-December 2004.
More 30-day supplies followed in March, May, June and July of 2005, and in January 2006.
In April of this year, ESPN The Magazine reported that Aaron Fike, who also competed in the Craftsman Truck Series, raced while he was high on heroin in 2007. Fike told The Magazine, "I've always said that if they tested 80 percent of the people on Pit Road, they'd find half of them were doing something."
Shaun Assael, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, writes extensively about doping in sports in his book, "Steroid Nation," available here.
14dTom McKean, ESPN Stats & Information