Helton defends substance-abuse testing policy
Updated: April 12, 2008, 11:29 PM EST
AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) - The call earlier this week for regular random drug testing by some of NASCAR's biggest stars apparently will not change the sanctioning organization's current policy of testing only for "reasonable suspicion."
But NASCAR president Mike Helton said the reaction by the drivers to the published report that former truck and Nationwide driver Aaron Fike used heroin the same day he drove in some races is a positive sign for the stock car sport.
Referring to the story in the April 21 edition of ESPN The Magazine, Helton said, "When you have a headline like that and the other athletes rare up on it and react like they did, that's a positive thing.
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"The (NASCAR) community polices the community," Helton added in an interview with The Associated Press on Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway. "The positiveness of all the drivers talking and everything, I think, echoes the responsibility that exists in this sport to avoid all that and to police all that. That's why we think that the reasonable suspicion policy works as an umbrella from a NASCAR perspective."
Helton said he does not know of any policy that can guarantee that no driver will ever race while under the influence of some substance any more than anyone could guarantee that an athlete in another sport will not abuse something on game day.
"The other part though is the fact that when we do find a situation and we do authenticate the abuse of a substance, it is a severe reaction," Helton said. "It's not just a couple of weeks off, it's a very severe, career-changing reaction from us that I think speaks loudly."
Helton added the substance-abuse policy that NASCAR has had in place for more than two decades has worked very well, with the help of the teams and the drivers.
"There are a lot of random drug testing policies or substance-abuse policies in our sport and they come through the car owners," he said. "We're different than other sports where we have multiple layers of independence. That's why we feel like the reasonable suspicion element that NASCAR implements has served its purpose and works well.
"But we know of car owners that have random testing programs with their employees. So those elements are already there. ... There's a lot of ways to attack this animal and a lot of ways to do it, but the shared responsibility between the competitors, the car owners and NASCAR, I think, works."
NASCAR officials wore black arm bands and there was a moment of silence during prerace ceremonies Saturday to honor the memory of series inspector Brienne Davis, killed Thursday in a car accident in North Carolina.
The 28-year-old Davis, one of the few full-time female inspectors in the stock car sport, joined NASCAR in 2004 and traveled throughout the racing season, inspecting carburetors and manifolds. She was scheduled to work this weekend at the Phoenix track.
There has been a debate for years over whether NASCAR should follow the example of the open-wheel series and the NHRA and have a full-time safety team instead of relying on local medical personnel at each of its racetracks.
Asked about it this week, Jeff Burton said he thinks NASCAR's system is working just fine.
"I'm not one of those people that believes ... that I have to look at a familiar face to get good care, that I have to look at a familiar face to have a competent person doing the job," said Burton, one of the most outspoken and articulate drivers in NASCAR.
NASCAR does employ four doctors full-time as medical liaisons who work with the tracks to see that the medical coverage is as effective as possible when it is needed.
"I do think we have to have a group of people that understand all the little nuances that go with us every week, but I don't believe that every single person needs to be with us every week," Burton said. "I think that we gain benefit from drawing on the information that people in Arizona have, people in Michigan have, people in Florida have. I think there's some real advantages to that."
He added, "I'm really comfortable with our safety, medical (people) ... .when we have an incident on the track and how they respond to it."
Among the celebrities on hand for Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500 were Subway spokesman Jared Fogle, who acted as the Grand Marshall; basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry, the honorary pace car driver; skiing champion Bode Miller; and IndyCar star Danica Patrick. ... The green flag used to start the race previously flew for one day over the 447th Air Expeditionary Group of the U.S. Force in Baghdad.