Friday, July 31, 2009

Iowa Speedway's First Nascar Nationwide Race

This weekend, Iowa Speedway hosts its first Nationwide race. The track that Rusty Wallace helped build has generated a lot of buzz in recent years, but the anticipated Nascar arrival is finally here.

The track is a 7/8 mile track modeled after Richmond with a few Wallace tweaks. Drivers report the corners are "big" enough to allow racing through them, and the smooth surface allows maximum speed. Iowans have supported the Speedway with large crowds at events that don't traditionally draw crowds. USAC fans were heard to exclaim the crowd for a qualifying day was unlike anything they had ever seen at a track, while the IRL and Nascar Camping World East-West races boast capacity crowds for their events. Tomorrow, nearly 57,000 are expected, with the Speedway building temporary stands to accommodate the crowd. If the crowd is that large, it will be the largest crowd for a racing event in Iowa (which is saying something when the Knoxville Nationals at its height clocked in around 40,000 and the Boone SuperNationals have several thousand each year as well).

During a press conference, Kyle Busch pointed out that this Nationwide race would potentially have more people at it than attended the Cup race a couple weeks ago at Chicago.

Iowa Speedway has hosted many events including IRL races, USAC races, Nascar's Camping World East-West series race, ARCA races, Hooter's Pro Cup races, Grand Am road races and motorcycle events. Nascar Sprint Cup stars who have tried out the track include: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, and Juan Pablo Montoya. Montoya ran one of his first stock car races at the track several years ago when he was transitioning from Formula One to stock cars. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards have both tested at the track. Earnhardt drew a crowd of a few hundred for a test session.

The track is ready to go and fans are urged to arrive early to avoid the typical rae traffic backup.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

"I Never Understood the Utility of That Particular Appendage"

Originally Posted on May 2, 2006 on

Before Danica-mania, there was Janet Guthrie.  Guthrie was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame late last week for her contributions to the sport.  It is Guthrie's contributions to the sport that opened doors for Danica, Sarah Fisher and other women to enter motorsports.

Guthrie was the first woman to earn a starting position in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.  And she accomplished it in the same year, 1977.  She ran races in both the Indy car series and Winston Cup in the late 1970's.

It was not easy going for Guthrie, and she had to endure the trash-talking by a large number of the men she raced against.  Guthrie kept her sense of humor and won many of them over by her fearlessness, speed, and her car handling abilities. 

One of the stories Guthrie told during her acceptance speech was about a French driver who was asked what he thought about (professional) women drivers. The driver replied "I think they'd be missing something between the legs." 

"I never understood the utility of that particular appendage" retorted Guthrie to the laughs of the crowd.  She continued by telling another story about out qualifying three time Indy 500 winner Johnny Rutherford.  After her qualification run, David Pearson commented "She's got to have them somewhere."

Guthrie was a racers racer - she's raced a variety of cars and has had success doing it.  Like many of her contemporaries, she drove both the nascar circuit and the indy car circuit along with other series and car types.

Sports Cars

Prior to her success in Indy cars or Nascar, Guthrie spent 13 years in sports car road racing where she built and maintained her own cars.   This was only natural given her physics degree and experience as an aerospace engineer and flight instructer.  During her sports car days, Guthrie had two class victories at the 12 Hours at Sebring.

Indy Cars

In 1976, Guthrie attempted to make the field at Indy, but was not fast enough.  The next year, she showed up and set the fastest time of the day at Indy on May 7th and May 22, 1977.  At the Indianapolis 50, Guthrie had the best finish by a woman until last year - she finished 9th in 1978.  To put this in perspective, in 1978, there were 92 entrants for the Indy 500 with 33 awarded starting spots.

She finished fifth in a race at Milwaukee in 1979, which was the best finish by a woman for 21 years.  That same year, she qualified fourth at Pocono to A.J. Foyt, Danny Ongais and Johnny Parsons.


Guthrie is the only woman to lead a Cup race.  Her 6th place finish at Bristol in 1977 is the best finish by a woman in the superspeedway era.

She out qualified and/or finished better than Bill Elliott, Ricky Rudd, Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Neil Bonnett and Johnny Rutherford at Talladega in 1977.

Guthrie out qualified and/or finished better than Elliott in 7 out of 10 races in which both ran.  She out qualified and/or finished better than Dale Earnhardt in 2 of 3 races in which both ran.  She out qualified and/or finished better than Johnny Rutherford in all 3 races both ran.

Given these statistics, the induction into the Hall of Fame was well deserved.

 Information from,, indianapolis motorspeedway, indy racing league.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

From Senna to Earnhardt: The Development of the HANS device

Originally Posted on Foxsports on April 25, 2006.

I am in the process of migrating many of my blogs to an archieve.  This is one I wrote three years ago about the HANS device.  I am still amazed that we had to lose two legendary drivers to implement a device that had been around for years before their accidents.

May 1st marks twelve years since Ayrton Senna was killed during the San Marino Grand Prix at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, Italy.   While leading the race, Senna slid off the track causing his right front tire to break off with its suspension.  The tire and suspension hit Senna in the head, causing  his death.  Senna's death followed by one day the death of another Formula One driver, Roland Ratzenberger, at the same track.

Senna was and is regarded as one of (if not the) best Formula One drivers ever.  Last weekend, another great driver, Michael Schumacher, captured his 66th pole - breaking a tie he held for most poles with Senna.  Ironically, the race last weekend was at Imola.

The race following Senna's death was marred by a serious accident involving another Formula One driver.  While this accident did not result in death, the press and public were disenchanted with the dangers of Formula One racing and began demanding new safety measures. In a twist of fate, Senna had been leading the charge for safety the morning of his death during an informal meeting with other drivers. 

February 18th marked five years since Dale Earnhardt was killed during the Daytona 500.  Earnhardt was and is regarded as one of (if not the) best stock car drivers ever.  Earnhardt was on the final lap of the race when he crashed, ultimately dying from the head injuries he sustained.  Earnhardt's death followed the deaths of Kenny Irwin, Adam Petty and Tony Roper.   

Following Earnhardt's death, the public and the drivers were unhappy with driver safety and demanded that something be done to prevent any further racing deaths.

Fast forwarding to today, most race sanctioning bodies mandate the use of a HANS device (Head And Neck Support) for drivers.  The device is to prevent the violent and often fatal head injuries sustained in high speed / high impact crashes.  The HANS device was brought to the forefront in most American's minds after the death of Earnhardt, however, the device was available well before that. 

And perhaps the tragedy is that the device was available to drivers before the death of Earnhardt and even before the death of Senna.

The HANS Device was developed by Dr. Robert Hubbard , a professor at Michigan State and his brother-in-law, Jim Downing, to prevent head injuries from racing accidents.  After testing, the device was marketed in 1991 - a decade before Earnhardt's fatal crash. 

In October of 1996, (after Senna's death), FIA, Mercedes-Benz, and McClaren contacted Hubbard and formed an agreement to adapt the device to Forumla One use. 

Why mandate HANS?  According to "Helping Hans" by Ross Stonefeld in Atlas F1:

Below are average strengths of the head and neck. The force withstood is dependent on location of impact, strike object size, and bone tissue density amongst other factors.

  • Frontal bone (forehead): 1,000 to 1,600lbs of force
  • Temporal-parietal (sides of head): 700 - 1900lbs of force.
  • Rear skull: 1,440
  • Facial: 280 - 520
  • Neck (under forward movement): 140

In a full human form crash test simulating a 40mph dead stop impact utilising the HANS device, neck loading was kept under 130lbs whilst the unrestrained head endured over 1,000lbs

"As soon as your head - which weighs, with the helmet, 13 or 14 pounds - has a sudden acceleration, it stretches your neck," (Jim) Downing explains. "If it stretches a little too far, you get a neck fracture or a skull fracture at the base of the skull where your head connects to your spine. With HANS on, the head sort of goes forward then back and looks OK. At the same speed with a fully belted dummy, the head smashes into the steering wheel and it's just appalling. The drivers say, 'Wow. That can't be.' In layman terms, keeping your head close to your body is what it's all about with HANS."

Racing will never be an entirely safe sport.  Hopefully the HANS device, or devices similar to it, can cut down on the number of deaths and the severity of the injuries sustained. 

We will never know if Senna or Earnhardt could have been saved by a HANS device.  But we all know drivers who's lives were saved by it - whether we know it or not.


Information gathered from Stonefeld, Wikipedia, Formula One, Jayski, and Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Confessions of a Racing Junkie Part II

Originally Posted on December 15, 2005 on

I realized I had a problem when I watched the 1999 Daytona 500 _Qualifications_ on TV.  I was craving a racing fix, and the winter without a race had been tough.

Tony Stewart was a rookie in 1999.  He earned lots of money racing; I spent lots of time watching racing. 

It was a small addiction then.  Missing a race didn't bother me (especially in the summer stretch).  Sometimes I wouldn't even know who won until a week later.  Nascar racing was available most of the year - no worries on missing a race.

Eventually, that changed when I moved and didn't have cable or satellite TV.  As the weeks went by, I missed racing again.  I needed the high of seeing stock cars race.  So, like any junkie, I found a new "dealer" = the radio.  It got me through the part of the schedule when I couldn't get the race on TV.

Years had gone by since I discovered this euphoria called racing, and I thought I had been hiding my racing problem well.  I didn't discuss racing because no one knew or cared anything about it.  I realized I had failed at hiding the amount of time I was spending on  racing when my brother bought me tickets to a race for Christmas.  "You should probably see one live sometime." he said.

My persistant- yet almost manageable - addiction was about to get a lot worse.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Confessions of a Racing Junkie Part I

Originally Posted on on December 14, 2005.

It started innocently enough.  After I finally finished my education, I was traveling across country with my Dad, and we stopped in Indianapolis (where else) to visit my aunt & uncle.  My uncle offered me the first seductive hit of racing by "forcing" us to watch a nascar race.  I don't recall seeing stock cars race before.  I suppose I knew it existed, but it had never registered on my radar.  Traditional stick & ball sports were my experience - both watching and playing.  However, my uncle's enthusiasm for this motor sport thing was catching.  And after that first hit, I remember thinking "I could learn to really like that."

Several months later I had my first memorable encounter with a nascar junkie.  He had all the trappings of a true nascar fan.  He owed numerous die cast cars, T-shirts, neon signs and other assorted junk.  I don't think he could decide which beer company to support, so he bought racing stuff from them all.  To top it off, he couldn't stop explaining the Daytona 500 qualification process to me and my co-worker.  We thought he was a scary  - so we set a new land speed record cleaning his house and bolted.

Shortly thereafter, I moved to a new town.  And, in the secret confines of my apartment, I began regularly taking hits of nascar races.  On Saturdays, I watched Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth battle it out for the Busch series championship.  But on Sundays, I avoided the racing scene - everyone would be talking football, basketball or baseball  - and I didn't want them to know about this new habit I had picked up.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tragedy Barely Avoided at Georgia Aquarium

Originally Posted on March 6, 2009 on

ATLANTA, GA.  Quick thinking by Darrell Waltrip and Larry McReynolds saved the life of one of Fox Sports' broadcast team.

Last night, the Fox Sports broadcasting team visited the Georgia Aquarium to gather footage for the broadcast on Sunday.  During the visit, Digger, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Hammond, Steve Byrnes, Matt Yocum, Chris Myers and Larry McReynolds all stopped atop the Hammerhead shark tank to watch the after-hours feeding.    Something horribly went wrong as Digger was tossed into the tank as the shark feeding frenzy began.

"I don't know what happened," said Byrnes.  "He was standing beside me, and suddenly launched into the tank.  I don't know if he jumped or was pushed."

"All I heard was Yocum yelling about how he couldnt' ruin his hair getting into the water, while Hammond was complaining about his tan running," remarked Myers.  "I was worried my expensive Italian loafers would get wet, so I couldn't jump in.  No, I'm not kidding and I don't care."

"It was then that Darrell just jumped right in there.  I think he said 'bogity, bogity, bogity, get outta my way, boys!' as he dived in," explained Yocum.  "Larry tossed a wrench at one of the sharks who didn't acknowledge Darrell.  It bounced off his snout.  But overall, I've never seen such professional courtesy.  The sharks knew him and let him take Digger out.  I guess that 'Jaws' nickname was legit!"

Digger is expected to fully recover, although he has put off several appearances in the Atlanta area today and tomorrow.   One source close to Digger said that Digger wasn't sure what happened, but he swore he was pushed and didn't slip into the tank.

Officials have begun an investigation into who may have pushed Digger in.  "Digger isn't as well loved as Fox would lead us to believe.  There have been credible threats by several people.  Namely FoxSports bloggers and Nascar fans," added Detective P. Columbo.  Columbo noted that several blogs, email accounts and twitter accounts had subpoenas issued for them today.

"And we haven't ruled out the crew either.  Byrnes had been heard complaining that Digger got more air time than he did just last week.  Yocum grumbled to friends that he thought Digger was stealing the cute fans away from his fan club.  Don't forget Miles Monster, of Dover, Delaware.  He issued a challenge last week that Digger had not better show his face in Dover or there would be serious consequences." 

The Nascar on Fox representative brushed aside all concerns, and commented that, "We are confident that this was an accident.  Fortunately no one was hurt."

Uniform Sparks Sponsorship Furor

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -  DeLana Harvick ignited a sponsorship war by doing what she does every Nascar Sprint Cup Race: wear a replica of her husband's firesuit.

"We saw DeLana wearing the firesuit, and it started a conversation that ultimately led to Chandra's new contract with Cover Girl," said Cherie Silver, Cover Girl's public relations vice president during the contract's unveiling.  "We wanted our logo out there in the photographs of pit lane and in victory lane.  Chandi will be wearing a T-Shirt emblazened with the Cover Girl logo at every race."  According to Hendrick Motorsports officials, Chandra will be featured in magazine ads, TV ads during the race, and at special events around the track.

"Jimmie and Chandi are excited to be involved with Cover Girl, and believe that Nascar's increasing female fan base will really support Cover Girl's entry into the sport," said Silver.  Silver noted that Johnson's car would only have a Cover Girl logo at three select races during the year.  "In general, it is all about Chandi, not the car."

Not to be outdone, Jeff Gordon''s  wife, Ingrid van de Bosch, was rumored the "Victoria's Secret Nascar Spokes Model."  

"Ingrid will be wearing the newest bras and underwear at the track.  Victoria's Secret will have a merchandise trailer for all those Nascar fans.  We think that this will be a way men who attend the races can find something for their wives and girlfriends at the track that they wouldn't see otherwise," remarked an anonymous HMS insider.

The insider could not explain how Ingrid could model the fashions without violating Nascar's garage clothing policy, which require pants,  sleeves, and toed shoes.  "I've heard rumors about sheer long sleeved T-shirts, that's all I can say," said the insider.

"I can't wait to see Ingrid," exclaimed Dale Earnhardt Jr, who declined to confirm the Victoria's Secret contract. "And Chandi too.  I think it will be a great combination."

Roush-Fenway Racing scrambled to catch up on the wives' sponsorship bandwagon, with rumors of a Katie Kenseth maternity line floating through the garage.  "We can't confirm the pregnancy, let alone the sponsorship," said Jack Roush.  "Obviously, we'd be delighted if Graco or Gerber wanted to join Roush Fenway Racing."

Greg Biffle noted that his wife, Nicole, would be sticking to her non-profit roots.  "Nicole is passionate about animal shelters and we will continue to focus on that, not money making oppportunities."

When asked if the WAG (Wives and Girlfriends) sponsorships meant that potential dates needed to bring a list of sponsorships to the table, Tony Stewart rolled his eyes and stormed off.  Dale Jr was more outspoken. "I think I have enough sponsorships right now.  It's not anything I'd worry about.  Although it would be nice," he added.

Two WAG sponsorships are still on the table:  Kotex and Always.  "So far, no one wants our sponsorship dollars.  It's silly - all women need feminine hygiene products.  We'd love to be involved in Nascar." said a Kotex representative. 

"None of the wives or girlfriends we approached were interested, but we're hopeful that someone will want to support our product." said an Always marketing representative, speaking anonymously.  "It's not like we want our logo on the car or anything."

Meanwhile, DeLana Harvick is baffled about the sponsorship furor her firesuit has set off. "I just wear it because I'm a teammember, and I was tired of ruining my clothes every week.  It wasn't for advertising." 

That said, Harvick noted that next weekend she might break down and advertise: for her favorite college basketball team, the North Carolina Tarheels.


Department of Justice Warns Kyle Busch about Terrorism

Originally Posted on April 8, 2009 on

(WASHINGTON DC) - Department of Justice officials confirmed that they had spoken to Kyle Busch and his team about terrorism concerns.
"Every time Kyle wins, the terrorism networks go wild.  They love him." said a person close to the situation.  
The official denied that Justice had ordered Busch to quit winning.  "Absolutely not.  We wouldn't suggest  that.  Well, unless national security were at stake.  There would be other alternatives we would explore."
"The Department of Justice is concerned because Kyle is becoming a hero to terrorists.  The Taliban and the Al-Queda see him as the antithesis of American heros like Dale Jr," explained JD Gibbs, who attended the meeting.  
When asked if the terrorists posed a threat to Busch's safety, the official explained, "The bigger danger is to those drivers who have scuffles with him on track.  The chatter about Dale Jr was sky high after the Texas race, and they view Carl Edwards as a potential usurper of Kyle's too.  There have been a couple near-riots in prisons were these guys are held when Busch crashes out of the race, but nothing too serious.  Yet." 
"I don't think Kyle will tone down anything," asserted Gibbs.  "These are bad guys, but deep down, they're just regular Nascar fans.  Look, Justice also said that the terrorist networks spiked when Jeff Gordon's wife's new hairdo was shown too.  Apparently they liked it long.   It really doesn't mean anything."
"We'll keep tabs on things.  We just thought it was important for Busch to realize what was going on when he did well.  It could be detrimental to national security if he's not careful with what he says and does."  said the official.  

Third Busch Brother "Discovered"

Originally Posted on April 20, 2009 on

(CHARLOTTE, NC)  Jamie McMurray surprised Nascar insiders today by going  to extreme measures to stay at Roush Fenway Racing.  McMurray announced that he had been adopted by Tom and Gaye Busch and was now to be known as Jamie McMurray-Busch, the third Busch brother.
"I've always wanted two brothers, and you really couldn't pick any better ones than Kurt and Kyle," said McMurray at his press conference.  "Nascar is a family sport.  I'm just expanding the family a little."

"I'm thrilled to have three such accomplished sons," said Gaye Busch.  "Jamie has been like one of the family for a long time now.  Why, he even gave me my Mother's Day gift early - a new Roush Mustang.  Kurt never got me one when he was at Roush!"

"Are you F@$#&n' kidding me?" remarked Kurt Busch when he was told the news.  "One little brother is f*$#@$n' enough!"

"Well, if Kurt is Buschie, and I'm Shrub, does that mean that Jamie is Bonsai?" Kyle smirked.  "Or will he keep "cupcake"?"

"I guess desperate times call for desperate measures," remarked a Roush Fenway employee, who refused to be named.   "Jamie's souvenir sales are down.  He hopes to spark either a Busch backlash or to hop on the Kyle Fan-Bandwagon.  Kyle's numbers have been going up every week, especially when he and Dale Jr. tussle."

"He's really worried that Jack will cut him," said a Kenseth crew member.  "He's the odd man out.  Matt's the Champ.  Biffle's gotten two championships for Jack; Carl's a sponsorship dream and contender.  That leaves David or Jamie. David's been running better for the past year."

McMurray, though, denied he was motivated by the upcoming Roush Fenway team cut.  "I'm not worried about Jack cutting me.  I'm a valuable part of the team.  And now, I'm part of the Busch dynasty.  I got this job because of Kurt's abrupt departure from Roush.  Kyle started in Nascar driving for Jack's truck team.  Jack loves having a Busch on the payroll."

When reached for comment, Jack Roush was blunt, as usual.  "Did the adoption give him an attitude too?" snarked Roush.  "If it did, he'll be driving for Yates by the end of the week."

Ferrari Leaves Formula One to Race in Nascar

Originally Posted on May 15, 2009 on

(CHARLOTTE, NC)  Ferrari stunned the racing world today by carrying out its threat to leave Formula One over the "Budget Cap Flap."  Luca di Montezemolo, Ferrari President, announced that the legendary organization would start competing in Nascar races beginning with the next Daytona race slated for July.  

"We are tired of Max Mosley and Bernie Ecclestone's excessive meddling in Formula One racing.  We want to spend our money, be successful, and target the American audience," remarked di Montezemolo.  "All Ecclestone is trying to do is recover the money he lost in his divorce when his wife took him to the cleaners.  And Mosley needs more cash to pay for his hired girls."

Brian France gushed "We are so excited for Ferrari to join Nascar racing.  I'm positive our fans will embrace Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen just like they have Max Papis and Juan Pablo Montoya.  Especially once they learn to pronounce their names.  And learn Kimi is a guy's name.  Oh, and learn to speak Italian since they will still be talking to their teams in Italian on the radio."

Di Montezemolo announced that as part of the deal, Kasey Kahne's car would be painted a different color.  "Ferraris can be the only red car on the track, as is our tradition."

Richard Petty, present for RPM,  commented, "We agreed.   Who could turn down the $30 million they offered? Kasey will be driving a Petty Blue car with the Bud logo."

The Ferrari team appeared shocked at how cheap it was to race in the Nascar league. "I can't believe that our budget can be less than the Formula One Budget cap and we can still be competitive," said di Montezemolo.  "We figure over half of our engineering group can be let go with no loss in competitiveness.  But of course we won't do that until we're winning at least 75% of the races.  Which should be by March 2010."

Other Formula One teams were shocked at the change of events.  "What do you mean Ferrari won't compete," said Lewis Hamilton.  "This won't be a World Championship if they aren't involved.  Any chance Braun will go too?"

Nascar teams were stunned at the addition of Ferrari to the field.  "How is that going to work?" said Kyle Busch.  

"Won't they have to qualify for all the races?" remarked Tony Stewart.

Ferrari had anticipated the qualifications problem, and as part of the deal to join Nascar, requested an exemption from qualifying.  France explained, "Ferrari will be given an automatic  starting position in all races until the start of next year.  In essence we will have 37 cars set in the field each week - the Top 35 plus 2 Ferrari cars."

Neither Massa or Raikkonen appeared at the news conference, but di Montezemolo stated that at both were excited at the prospect of touring the Nascar locales such as Talladega, Dover, Fontana and Las Vegas.  "Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Bahrain get boring when you go every year.  This will add excitement to the rigors of traveling." 

Indy: Tire Testing or Racing?

Last year I attended the Sprint Cup race at Indy, or rather, I attended the extended tire test.  While I still had a good time, I am hopeful that this year will feature extended stretches of racing with actual green flag pit stops.

Goodyear and IMS are promoting a "race" this year with Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman all touting a good race. 

Hopefully Goodyear has the right tires ready to go.  If not, what will Nascar do?  Should IMS lose its spot on the Cup calendar? Should Goodyear lose its status as sole tire supplier?

On the other hand, if Goodyear works out, should it be rewarded with a contract extension?  A lot hinges upon the outcome of the race on Sunday.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Dirt Track Racing

I'll be honest - I've never been a big fan of summer.  I much prefer fall or spring.  Summer in Iowa is a sticky, hot mess.  If you aren't dodging hail & a tornado, it's probably hot enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk.

However, summer does mean one thing in Iowa:  Dirt Track Racing.  So every weekend has nearly unlimited options for dirt track lovers.  Two of my favorites are quickly approaching: the Knoxville Nationals (in August) and the Boone Supernationals (in September).

The Knoxville Nationals are in their 49th year of racing sprint cars.  While the cars have evolved from their original non-wing form to the current winged configuration, the racing remains exciting.  The Nationals are a four day sprint car extravaganza with a nice side show of sweet corn on the cob, turkey legs, and homemade pie.  

The Boone Supernationals are a completely different animal.  Hundreds of cars arrive to race their way into the Saturday night show, and spend all week trying to do it.  The Supernationals are sanctioned by IMCA, so there are Late Models, Modifieds, Sport Modifieds (both Southern & Northern), Sprint Cars, Hobby Stock cars, and Stock Cars.  Typically, by the start of the Modified qualifiers on Wednesday, the races start at 3 p.m. and end at 3 a.m. (give or take an hour or more).  Naturally, a good seat cushion is a must!

So, while there is still time this summer, get out to the dirt track and take in a show.  If your local track isn't exciting enough, plan to go to a big event.  And if you need any ideas, I'm sure I can come up with a few!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Mayfield mess: Or why Nascar needs to revise its policy

Jeremy Mayfield took Nascar to court and achieved the nearly impossible: he got a federal judge to lift Nascar's ban so he could drive. 

Nearly impossible because Nascar generally wins court actions, and it would appear that a racing organization would have a great argument on safety when someone has failed a drug test.
Why did Mayfield win?  I have a few theories. 
First, Nascar's substance abuse policy fails to put drivers on notice about what substances are forbidden.  There is no list.  Rather, there is no public list.  There actually has to be a list as the lab must know what to look for.  
Why is this  a problem?  During a typical Nascar three series weekend nearly 100 drivers, plus crew members could potentially be selected for testing.  The odds are that someone is on a prescription drug for allergies, medical problems, even pain.  The lab, therefore, must know what substances are OK.  The list is not provided to competitors, and this is a fatal flaw.  How can a competitor advise their doctor about what drugs are not permissible if the competitor does not know? 
Secondly, according to Mayfield, Nascar does not follow established protocol in taking the urine tests.  This means there is no notice and no set procedure on collecting the test samples.
Let me give you an oversight as to what typically happens when a urine sample is taken.  My experienced is based on litigating urine samples in state criminal court, but I believe the protocol for federal criminal matters is similar, if not identical (which is what the federal judge is going to be knowledgeable about).
The "examiner" should first take an unopened package to the meeting with the person giving the sample ("the "examinee").  The package will typically contain a cup or container, a mailing label and box, and paperwork.  Some kits contain two cups (an A Sample and a B Sample).  The package should remain sealed until the examiner and examinee are both present.  The package is opened and the paperwork is filled out.  The examinee should be asked about prescription drugs and illegal drugs they have taken.  This information goes on the paperwork. This way the lab is aware of what may pop up on the test.  
The examiner then gives the cup(s) to the examinee, who urinates in the cup in the examiner's presence.  This prevents the examinee from using someone else's urine or diluting the sample. (Yes, this does happen!)
The cup is then sealed, put into the mailing box, and the box is sealed.  The examinee watches this process so that the examiner cannot put something in the sample, and so the sample is not deliberately or accidently switched. (Think about how many plots would be ruined with this simple rule).
The seals on the box are eventually opened at the lab.  Depending on the size of the cup or sample, it may be completely used.  The remaining sample is kept by the lab for a few days (usually 60 or 90) before it is destroyed.  If there is a positive test, the second sample can be tested by the same lab to confirm the test, or it is preserved for the examinee to have tested at another lab.  Often, the examining agency requests that the sample be sent to another lab to confirm.
Mayfield's complaints are that (1) the cup was open when he got it (2) he didn't see the cup sealed, (3) the lab destroyed or used the sample so he couldn't have it independently tested.  I'd guess that he was probably not watched taking the sample either, but that is just a guess.
So why would a federal judge have concerns about the test?  It doesn't comply in any way with the standard procedure.  The procedure is designed to prevent both the examiner and the examinee from tampering with the test.  The way Mayfield describes it, none of the precautions were followed, and thus, the sample could very easily be contaminated.
I think the Court must have believed that the standard procedure wasn't followed, or he would have likely upheld the injunction against Mayfield's ability to drive in a Nascar event.
Obviously, the Court has not decided who will win the lawsuits, but I think this slap on Nascar's hand may be a hint of what is to come.
If I were Nascar, I'd be revising how these tests were given and I'd promulgate a list of banned substances to the competitors.  Why Nascar cannot state that it is a violation to have an illegal substance in your system is beyond me, and I'd guess there are other substances they may want to ban too.  A quick look at the NFL, MLB, NBA drug policies would go a long way.