Wednesday, January 09, 2013

COMMENTARY: When A Question Is More Than A Question

Sometimes, a question is more than just a question. 

Case in point, Tuesday night’s surprising exchange between driver Jeremy Mayfield and NASCAR CEO Brian France. 

Suspended since a failed substance abuse test in May of 2009, Mayfield popped up on Motor Racing Network’s "NASCAR Live" radio program Tuesday evening, utilizing the show’s open-phone format to lob an unexpected query at NASCAR’s top boss. 

"I just want to ask Brian if he's willing to accept the fact that I'd like to come back racing, and if we could sit down and talk about it and figure out what we need to do to make that work," said Mayfield. 

The question was almost certainly rhetorical. Mayfield is well aware that the path back to NASCAR’s good graces is the “Road to Recovery;” a program that guides suspended drivers and crewmembers through a focused, individualized protocol of rehabilitation, counseling and testing. That option was extended to Mayfield immediately following his suspension in 2009, and it has remained on the table ever since. 

Mayfield, however, chose litigation over rehabilitation, clinging doggedly to his assertion that he has never used methamphetamine and blaming his failed drug test on a combination of Adderall – used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – and the over-the-counter allergy medication Claritin-D. He clung to his story even as experts debunked the possibility of such a mistake, then launched a dizzying series of conspiracy theories at NASCAR, its drug testing agent, Aegis Laboratories and France himself, accusing them gross incompetence, willfully falsifying test results and harboring a personal vendetta against him.  

An opportunity for Jeremy Mayfield
Some of his allegations seemed plausible at first, while others were downright bizarre and defied belief. Despite spending huge sums of money on high-profile, celebrity attorneys -- at least one of whom quit the case and sued him for non-payment -- Mayfield experienced an uninterrupted series of legal setbacks. Three times, judges sided with NASCAR in the dispute, before U.S. District Court Judge Graham Mullen finally ruled in May of 2012 that Mayfield’s case was without merit, and dismissed it.  

By then, Mayfield had new legal issues to attend to, being charged with multiple felonies after Sheriff’s deputies raided his home and discovered a large quantity of methamphetamine, dozens of firearms and goods allegedly stolen from local businesses, including the now-defunct Red Bull Racing team. Through it all, Mayfield continued to profess his innocence, claiming he had been the victim of a vast conspiracy involving NASCAR, the courts and multiple law enforcement agencies. 

“I don't need to go to rehab, because I don't have a problem," said Mayfield at the time, toeing a defiant line in the face of repeated setbacks. 

Now, however, it appears the Kentucky native may be ready to try a different tact. 

"You know the path back for you," said France Tuesday, reminding Mayfield of his open Road to Recovery. "It's the path back for anybody. I've always hoped that you would choose the right path and not litigation… but that's up to you. You have a welcome mat out, anytime you want”. 

Mayfield has not said whether he will accept France’s offer, undergo the RTR program and apply for reinstatement to NASCAR. Rest assured, however, that anything less will forever cement his status as an outcast from the sport. Unfortunately for Mayfield, reinstatement comprises just one step in the marathon of personal redemption that almost certainly lies ahead. Completing the Road to Recovery will be child’s play compared to finding a team owner and sponsor willing to back him in big-league NASCAR competition. He also faces more than a decade in possible jail time on the outstanding felony charges, and said yesterday that he will decline any plea bargain that includes time behind bars.  

Even if those hurdles can all be cleared – and many doubt that they can -- the sport has changed dramatically since Mayfield last strapped into a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race car. Adapting to today’s machinery will be a daunting prospect, at best.

The odds remain stacked against him, and no one knows for sure whether Mayfield really wants to return to NASCAR. Tuesday’s odd encounter was either a final, desperate gesture by a man incapable of surviving outside of the public spotlight, or a genuine indicator of remorse. For Mayfield’s sake, and for the sake of the sport, I hope it was the latter.  

Unexpected as it was, Tuesday’s exchange offers an opportunity for Mayfield to reverse his course and take a positive step for the first time in nearly four years. 

I hope he follows through.


  1. rexford462:24 PM

    Brian France responded to that question like a true professional.

    1. Anonymous6:08 PM

      Yes he did, and I don't even like Brian France.

  2. My Christianity tells me to forgive. However, I can not see a future for Mayfield with all the talent that is looking for rides. I wish him the best in his future. He gave us some thrills in his career.

  3. Absolutely! Better than I thought he would

  4. Ron Conley3:16 PM

    Is there anywhere we can hear this portion of Nascar Live? I would love to hear it!

  5. Carol3:18 PM

    Some people have class (A.J. Almendinger) and some peoople don't(do I have to even say the name?). And that phone call showed even less class than he usually does. He has worked diligently to make a bad situation so much, much worse.

    1. Anonymous12:31 PM

      You must have forgotten the stories and down right lies in the Allmendinger case. Is that class?

  6. You do realize that this was scripted in advance. MRN contacted France and obtained his consent before putting the call on the air. There were limits set on what Mayfield could say.

    1. No, Gary, I do not realize that, because it is patently untrue. The first anyone knew of it was when Jeremy gave his name to the call screener. It actually took him a moment to convince them it was really him, and not someone joking around.

  7. I read an article yesterday that said he faces 43 years. Good luck pleaing that down to no jail time.

  8. Anonymous4:20 PM

    Terrific recap of what many forget happened back in 2009. Mr. Mayfield always has known 'the way back' and I was quite impressed with Mr. France's answer last night. There is a reason he is Chief Executive Officer and we should not forget it.

  9. Anonymous4:51 PM

    Terrific Blog today, Godfather. Thanks for reminding all of what has transpired over the last four years with regard to Jeremy. The story is much greater and more complex than just someone using drugs. I am convinced that Mr. Mayfield will never be in NASCAR racing again.

  10. For this to work in NASCAR's eyes, Jeremy has to admit he did take illegal drugs. Nothing in his statements indicates he admits that. He still strikes me as a typical junkie trying to game the system for his benefit.

    Which is a crying shame and such a waste of talent and experience. I hope I am wrong.

  11. It's awfully late in the game for this. He was already an older driver trying to stay in Cup by running his own team; I don't see a place on the grid for him now. Maybe he's hoping for a NASCAR Weekly Series ride.

  12. You know what, I truely hope that Jeremy's call to the show was a way for him to reach out and admit the first step in his recovery process. This guy had tallent and could of been a shinning star in the NASCAR sky. From what I heard,there was no ill intent on his part, he was polite, curtious, kept it short and aknowledge Brian France's statement correctly. The only person that sounde4d nervous durring that cfall was B. France, he never stopped studdering and repeating himself....I found that bizare to say the least.

    All that being said, Mayfield has a long hard road ahead of him if he wants to come back to NASCAR and drive and I hope he makes it but you know what....He might not even need NASCAR once he gets Brian France's blessings, that blessing alone would be enough to help Mayfield get a ride in another series, like ARCA or ALMS let's say?!?!!? Anyhoo....Good luck Jeremy and I hope you come out on the other end better than you came in !!!

  13. Jolly Rogers2:00 PM

    How can he go through the road to recovery if he still won't admit to his problem. That's the first step. His call to Mr. France was done, in my opinion, to stir the pot.

  14. Anonymous3:45 PM

    He only called in to make us talk about him.

  15. Anonymous5:32 PM

    Better drivers are struggling to keep sponsors. No one is going to be picking up Jeremy. There's a few unsigned Indy car drivers out there that have a better shot.

  16. Geosez10:31 AM

    Mr. Mayfield needs to get his mental health and legal issues settled first -- THEN he can talk about getting back into racing. Interesting that I'm commenter #18 and so far none of the conspiracy crowd has shown up. Maybe they're beginning to see the light. I agree that this was an attention grab.