Drug Abuse in Auto Racing

October 5, 2015


By Brian Howarth – Thompson Rivers University 2L JD Student

Doping and drug abuse are well-known issues in the sporting realm. The headlines are dominated by major scandals, such as Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriguez. North American doping and drug abuse scandals are mostly discussed in the context of major sporting arenas, like the National Football League or Major League Baseball. However, doping and drug abuse are prevalent concerns in other, perhaps less publicized, areas of sport, such as auto racing. The Federation Internationale de L’Automobile (FIA) governs some of the largest auto racing leagues in the world, namely Formula One and the World Rally Championship.

There are key pieces of anti-doping regulations within the (FIA) regulations. There is a prohibited list, international standards for therapeutic use exceptions, international standards for testing and investigation, international standards for the protection of privacy and personal information, and international standards for laboratories.

The FIA, interestingly, does not govern some of the popular North American auto racing leagues like, IndyCar Racing League or the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). IndyCar has a substance abuse policy that outlines, among other things, a ban on performance enhancing drugs, which according to section XIII(A)(2)(a) of the IndyCar Substance Abuse Policy, comes with a penalty of a year’s suspension on first violation. This is compared to only a 60 day suspension for non-performance enhancing drugs. Although NASCAR’s rulebook is not as public as that of IndyCar’s or the FIA’s, it has a similar substance abuse policy. NASCAR has had to rely on its use several times, mostly for simple drug infractions, though there has been a case of performance enhancing drugs.

AJ Allmendinger, a race car driver that has struggled to find a solid and successful home, causing him to jump around numerous leagues over his years, was amongst the first high profile drivers to fail a drug test. When in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, while on contract with Penske Racing, he was randomly tested pursuant to the substance abuse policy. In both his sample A and B of the test he was found to have amphetamines in his system, which is included as a banned substance on NASCAR’s prohibited substance list. In July 2012, on the eve of the Daytona race, Allmendinger was suspended indefinitely.

This highlights that no sport is immune from doping scandals. NASCAR would not release the specific substance; still Allmendinger claims it was just a mistaken consumption of Adderall. Luckily, Allmendinger was admitted into the “Road to Recovery” program for substance abuse offenders in NASCAR. After completion, Penske Racing was helpful in securing him rides, and in August 2013 JTG Daughtery signed him to a three year deal. Allmendinger may have been a victim of poor timing, but the quick response and harsh punishment handed down by NASCAR illustrates the seriousness of the offence.

This wasn’t the first time NASCAR had to deal with a drug scandal, in 2009 Jeremy Mayfield tested positive for methamphetamines. Mayfield immediately brought an action against NASCAR in the State of North Carolina “asserting claims for defamation, violation of the North Carolina Persons with Disabilities Protection Act, unfair and deceptive trade practices, breach of contract, and negligence”. However, Mayfield was not successful in either the Superior Court or the Court of Appeal. This case prompted a massive overhaul of NASCAR’s substance abuse policy.

NASCAR’s 2009 Substance Abuse Policy did not specify any prohibited drugs but did craft a memo in 2008 in which methamphetamines were listed as banned substances. The pre-2009 rulebook covering substance abuse was only a couple of sentences long. The 2012 version has expanded it to at least nine pages; similar to IndyCar, NASCAR uses Aegis Sciences Corp to handle the testing and transportation of samples.

Although not all drug abuse is necessarily performance enhancing, the cases mentioned above highlight the need for important change regarding the regulation of drug abuse and performance enhancing drugs. Mayfield’s case brought to light the growing concerns of drug use in auto racing. Although the anti-doping policies have not been frequently tested, with the growing number of cases in other sports it is quite likely that auto racing will follow suit.

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