NASCAR and Performance Enhancing Drugs

In light of revelations that NASCAR’s Aaron Fike used heroin on competition days, NASCAR president went on record to defend NASCAR’s drug testing policy based on “reasonable suspicion.”

“The [NASCAR] community polices the community,” Helton added in an interview with The Associated Press. “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.”

Commentator David Caraviello went a step farther, not only defending the “reasonable suspicion” drug testing policy, but also asserting that NASCAR does not have any type of problem with performance-enhancing drugs either (“Addressing a drug problem that is not a problem at all,” April 16).

The reason the Olympics began drug testing in 1976? Steroids. The reason the NFL began drug testing in 1990? Steroids. The reason tennis began drug testing in 1993? Steroids. The reason the NHL began drug testing in 2006? Steroids. The reason professional cycling conducts drug tests? Steroids. The reason the PGA Tour is implementing a drug-testing policy next year? Steroids. The reason for the recent upheaval in Major League Baseball? Steroids.

In each of those sports, the athlete can clearly benefit through the use of a performance-enhancing drug. Not so in NASCAR, where the raw skills are all bundled in reflex and nerve. Harvick can take all the tetrahydrogestrinone he wants, and it’s not going to help him with the Sprint Cup title.

While the performance enhancing benefit of anabolic steroids in NASCAR is questionable, Caraviello seems to pretend that the only type of performance enhancing drug is anabolic steroids. Obviously, this selective ignorance is self-serving in his argument against the implementation of anti-doping programs. There are no doubt several pharmaceuticals that can enhance the “raw skills… all bundled in reflex and nerve.” Just ask the U.S. military about performance enhancing drugs such as Provigil and Adderall that are mandatory for some fighter pilots.

But Caraviello is correct is stating that NASCAR is categorically different from football, baseball, basketball, etc. Perhaps NASCAR should consider a testing program that only tests fror pharmaceuticals and drugs that HURT performance. In most sports, a competitor who uses a drug that diminishes performance would be welcome to other competitors; in NASCAR, the use of such drugs may actually do more harm than good for other competitors by increasing the risk of serious injury and death. Ironically, the use of performance enhancing drugs that make fellow competitors better drivers might actually make the sport safer!

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