Thursday, June 08, 2006

"Dead Man Walking" Back From The Brink

Busch Series driver Kevin Grubb was reinstated by NASCAR this week, and will attempt to qualify for Saturday’s “Federated Auto Parts 300” at Nashville Superspeedway, driving the Mac Hill Motorsports #56 Chevrolet.

Grubb was suspended from NASCAR in March of 2004 for a violation of NASCAR's substance abuse policy. He ran a partial Busch Series schedule in 2003 -- finishing 19th in points – and was slated to run a partial schedule for Team Rensi Racing in `04. At one time, Grubb was seen as an up-and-coming NASCAR star, after driving the Timberwolf Chevrolet for Brewco Motorsports (18 top-10 finishes in 2001), Team Bristol Motorsports' Toys-R-Us Chevy, and the Carroll Motorsports Dr. Pepper Ford. By late 2003, however, his performances began to suffer, and rumors circulated in the NASCAR garage that the Mechanicsville, Va., driver was battling substance abuse. NASCAR took action before he turned a lap in 2004, suspending him from competition.

Over the next few months, stories circulated that painted a troubling picture of Grubb and his struggles. A post on his website asked NASCAR fans to send messages of support, saying, “Kevin needs our help now. He is no better, in fact probably worse than in February. He looks terrible, and is basically a `Dead Man Walking.' I'm afraid he will not be here much longer if his fans don't come together and save him from himself. Most of his friends and family have given up. We cannot allow this young man to self-destruct.”

Since then, little has been heard from Grubb. NASCAR maintained its stance that in order to be reinstated, Grubb would have to adhere to a stringent set of guidelines, including mandatory, random drug testing at NASCAR’s discretion. Nothing more was heard until early this week, when word first leaked that Grubb had applied for – and been granted -- reinstatement to NASCAR.

At the time of this writing, Kevin Grubb has issued no public statement about his return to competition, or the long road he has traveled since March of 2004. One thing is beyond dispute, though; Kevin Grubb has cleaned up his act. In order to gain reinstatement to NASCAR, Grubb has had to pass an exhaustive gauntlet of tests, proving to NASCAR beyond any doubt that he has won his battle against addiction.

For that, he deserves a tremendous amount of credit.

As difficult as that battle has been, however, it is not the end of the fight. Now, Grubb has to convince the rest of the world that he is clean and sober. Landing a ride with Mac Hill Motorsports is a fine first step. Team-owner Jack McNelly is well-respected in the NASCAR garage, and while they have frequently struggled to find adequate sponsorship, the team has fared well this season with Kevin Lepage at the wheel. Lepage will continue to drive the Mac Hill #56 on Nextel Cup combination weekends, with Grubb steering the machine in stand-alone events.

Regaining the confidence of his fellow drivers won’t happen overnight, but it can be done. After all, with the conditions set forth by NASCAR, Grubb is the one Busch Series driver that everyone knows will not be out partying the night before a race.

Grubb's toughest battle will be waged in the corporate boardroom. Will sponsors be willing to associate themselves with a driver that was suspended by NASCAR for substance abuse? The spectre of drugs looms large in this society, and faced with a choice between Kevin Grubb and another driver, sponsors may understandably choose to invest their money elsewhere.

We'll worry about that later, though. For now, let’s rejoice in the fact that Kevin Grubb was able to look the Devil in the eye and fight his way back to life, and to the sport he loves. The “Dead Man Walking” of 2004 will be back behind the wheel of a racecar this weekend in Music City, USA, and that’s something worth celebrating.

Congratulations, Kevin, and good luck.


  1. If Kevin can gain confidence in himself and it looks like he has, the rest will follow.

  2. Substance abuse is an everyday battle. Being able to come this far, is testimnet of how strong a person he really is.