Monday, July 09, 2007

Fike's Arrest Shatters All Pretense Of A Drug-Free NASCAR

NASCAR can no longer look down its nose at other sports on the topic of substance abuse.

For years, we have held our sport in high regard, secure in the belief that NASCAR has no major issues with drugs. While Major League Baseball continues to ignore the 2,000-pound steroid-infused gorilla in the room, and NFL and NBA players clog the police blotters with a parade of drug possession and weapons charges, NASCAR has remained comparatively unblemished.

That all changed Saturday night, when NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series driver Aaron Fike was arrested at the Kings Island Amusement Park in Ohio on a pair of felony drug charges.

Fike and his fiancee, Cassandra Davidson, were taken into custody after park authorities reported suspicious activity inside their SUV. Police say that when a park security officer approached the vehicle, Fike attempted to drive away, striking the officer with his side mirror. When police arrived, a search of Fike’s SUV revealed heroin, as well as syringes and spoons with residue. The pair is being held without bond at the Warren County Jail in Lebanon, Ohio, and will be arraigned at 9 a.m. ET tomorrow on charges of felony drug possession and misdemeanor possession of drug abuse instruments.

NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said the sanctioning body is attempting to determine the facts before responding. “We've seen the media reports, and are reaching out to both the team and authorities,” he said. “We will make a decision once we know a little bit more about the facts."

Sources say NASCAR will require Fike to undergo an independent drug test as soon as possible, and will suspend him indefinitely if the results are positive.

If NASCAR suspends Fike – and they are almost certain to do so – he will become the fourth upper-echelon NASCAR driver to be suspended for substance abuse-related issues in the last 18 months. Shane Hmiel was suspended indefinitely after failing a trio of NASCAR-mandated drug tests in September 2003, June 2005, and February 2006. Kevin Grubb remains on indefinite suspension after refusing a mandatory drug test in September of 2006, and Tyler Walker was suspended by NASCAR after failing a similar test in May.

Few specifics of the Hmiel, Grubb and Walker cases have become public, allowing many of us to minimize their impact on the sport. “Maybe they just smoked a little pot,” we thought at the time. “That’s not so bad. Heck, if bourbon had been illegal, Curtis Turner would have served life without parole.”

This time around, it’s heroin, not marijuana. That’s heavy stuff, no matter how you slice it. In addition, we believed it impossible for a driver to use hard drugs and still perform at the top of the sport; trusting that the physical demands of racing at 150 mph precluded anyone from succeeding while chemically impaired.

We were wrong.

Aaron Fike stood eighth in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points at the time of his arrest, with four Top-10 finishes in 12 starts, and a season best fifth-place finish just one week earlier at Memphis Motorsports Park. His strong showing in Memphis -- followed by an arrest on heroin charges just days later -- shatters all remaining pretense that racers cannot possibly be users.

For Fike, Saturday night’s arrest almost certainly marks the end of a promising NASCAR career. The prospect of an extended prison sentence looms dark on the horizon, and with four young careers derailed in as many years, NASCAR Nation can no longer sleep soundly at night, secure in the knowledge that our sport is somehow insulated from the issues of the outside world.

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