For NASCAR, New Drug Testing Policy

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 21, 2008

DOVER, Del., Sept. 20 -- NASCAR officials unveiled a sweeping drug testing policy on Saturday that will take effect in 2009, asserting the right to test all drivers in its top three series for any drug, from cough syrup to cocaine, at any time during the season.

The policy -- which also applies to the pit crews and trackside NASCAR officials -- does not identify the substances that are banned. Nor does it spell out quantities of over-the-counter medications that will trigger a positive result. And it doesn't list penalties for a failed test, other than to make clear that NASCAR has the right to ban competitors for life for a single violation if it is deemed appropriate.

The policy received enthusiastic support from drivers who said they welcomed the tougher stance, even though a leading expert in the drug-testing field questioned its practicality.

"Zero tolerance is the tolerance it needs to be," said Robby Gordon, 39, among the more than 80 drivers briefed on the policy Saturday at Dover International Speedway.

Added Kyle Petty, 48, a third-generation stock-car racer: "Look, a drug is a drug is a drug. This is not shooting hoops; this is not hitting a fastball. This is life and death. In a sport like this, everything should be off limits unless there is a medical reason."

Gary Wadler, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited list and methods committee, said the NASCAR policy was unprecedented in not spelling out what substances were prohibited.

Drug testing programs in major league sports, as well as those used in Olympic competition, include detailed lists that are amended as needed.

"The core of any drug testing policy is the prohibited list of banned substances," said Wadler, a faculty member at New York University, in a telephone interview. "Without that, you're missing the heart and soul of the policy. It is unfathomable to me that they would have a drug testing policy without explicitly saying what drugs are banned. I've never heard of that."

But Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR's vice president of racing operations, who played a key role in developing what he called "the broadest policy in all of sports," said he saw no reason for the sport to limit its options.

"The reason we don't have a list is, we believe a list is restrictive," O'Donnell said. "By having a broad policy that doesn't list anything, we feel like we can test for any substance that may be abused. . . . It states right now in our policy that cough medicine could be abused if you're taking that too much and it's going to affect the safety on the racetrack."

O'Donnell said narcotics, beta blockers and steroids were the "key areas" NASCAR would explore in the tests, to be conducted by Nashville-based Aegis Sciences Corporation. But other substances could be the subjects of tests, as well.

Under the new policy, drivers will undergo urine-based tests in January, before the start of the season. Samples of blood, hair and saliva may also be tested if necessary, spokesman Ramsey Poston added.

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