Does NASCAR Need To Police All Types Of Substance Abuse?

By Brody Jones

The biggest news story of today in the world of NASCAR, without a doubt, was Michael Annett’s DWI arrest. It’s not so much an issue of him drinking alcohol as it was what his blood alcohol content registered as. For those who haven’t seen the story, his BAC was registered at an alarmingly high .32, four times the legal limit. Keep in mind, loyal NASCAR fans, that Rob Moroso’s BAC in his fatal car accident in 1990 was .22. It doesn’t take a genius here to figure out that Mr. Annett clearly has a serious problem that needs to be addressed. While RWI has taken some initiative to correct the problem, this still begs the question should all types of substance abuse be policed by NASCAR?
While marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine, heroin, and many other substances have been policed by NASCAR and drivers such as Jamie Skinner, Brian Rose, Shane Hmiel, Tyler Walker, Aaron Fike, Jeremy Mayfield, and countless others have been hit with suspensions, one has to wonder why is alcohol held to a different standard? Both drugs and alcohol can impair your driving and lead to death, so why is NASCAR not policing this issue more? Imagine if Michael Annett had been driving on the track with a .32 BAC content. Not only would that be grossly negligent on NASCAR’s part, if he was in an accident and killed himself or someone else? Just imagine the PR hit NASCAR would take for not acting sooner against alcohol.
Oh, sure, some will argue that NASCAR drivers have every right to drink alcohol if they choose to away from the track. But it is rather irksome that alcohol is not allowed in the pits yet NASCAR does nothing about drivers who get convicted of a DWI. Either you police both issues of drugs and alcohol completely or you just do away with the drug testing if you’re not going to police alcohol better than this. The fact is NASCAR drivers are role-models and, for a sport that prides itself so greatly these days on being a “family sport”, it’s still a great black eye for these drivers to get DWI’s and it sends a mixed message when you try to eliminate substance abuse yet have beer companies sponsoring your cars. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m far from a tee-totaling prude. I don’t mind when people drink alcohol in moderation, but when you have a .32 BAC, I don’t care what type of PR statement you send out, that is a black eye not just for a driver but for the sport as well.
However, on the flip side of things, beer sales are a large part of NASCAR revenue and make the series a great deal of money. Coors Light puts a great deal of money into their pole award system. Budweiser has been a NASCAR sponsor for close to 30 years. And Miller Lite has a lengthy legacy with Roger Penske. So as much as one might want to police drinking in the garage area, you again run the risk of sending a mixed message, this time to sponsors as NASCAR already has issues drawing new money into the sport so, on occasion, they have to do a dance with the devil on occasion to keep their sport thriving, let alone surviving. It’s a really tricky issue as it truly is almost like asking if you want to get shot in the chest or shot in the head with a pistol from point blank range. There’s really no way you can win.
In the end, what can NASCAR do about this? To be brutally honest, there really is nothing that can be conceivably done unless a driver shows up completely blotto as the race track and tries to enter a race. Either you offend sponsors or you keep sending a mized-message on your substance abuse policy. Not a debate you can win either way, is it? The fact is while what Annett did is absolutely and completely reprehensible and irresponsible, there isn’t anything NASCAR can really do about it at this time. Unfortunately, it just might take a tragedy involving alcohol for NASCAR to address this issue. This writer hopes sincerely it doesn’t come to that, but it just might have to for the issue to be directly addressed.