The case has become like a multicar pileup at the speedway; you can’t take your eyes off it.
The increasingly salacious elements of the story and the stigma of the drug commonly referred to as crystal meth have dominated the news and taken the focus away from Nascar’s program, which many specialists in the field of drug testing have derided as less than ideal.
While applauding the intent, they say the plan lacks a full and specific list of disallowed drugs, fails to establish precise penalties, does not have a formal medical exception standard and is without a clearly established appeals or arbitration process.
Many of those elements are playing out in the Mayfield case.
Known in Nascar circles more for his outspokenness than racing success, Mayfield, 40, sued the organization in May after he was suspended for failing a drug test. Nascar, which by practice does not disclose the exact drug detected, countersued. Mayfield sought a temporary injunction to restore his driving privileges, his lawyers arguing in court that he never used recreational drugs.
On July 1, a judge determined that the chance of a false positive was “quite substantial” and ruled in Mayfield’s favor, lifting the suspension. That day, Nascar confirmed published reports that Mayfield had tested positive for methamphetamine.
The case became messier last week when Nascar said that Mayfield, who had offered to be retested, had failed a second test for meth. Among the new result and other papers filed by Nascar to persuade the court to lift the injunction was testimony from Mayfield’s stepmother that she had observed him ingesting the drug some 30 times over seven years.
In an interview with ESPN, Mayfield cast his stepmother as the person who “shot and killed my dad.” (His father’s shooting death in 2007 was ruled by a medical examiner as self-inflicted.)
Mayfield and his lawyers contend that the two positive tests may have been caused not by meth but by his use of Adderall for attention deficit disorder and Claritin-D for allergies. He said about a half-dozen of his urine samples had been evaluated by an independent lab and showed no traces of meth.
Nascar stands by its open-ended suspension of Mayfield.
“What we’ve been told is methamphetamine is America’s No. 1 drug problem,” said Ramsey Poston, a Nascar spokesman. “It’s highly addictive and dangerous.”
Nascar was founded 52 years ago by Bill France Sr., and the France family has operated the business unilaterally ever since. No drivers’ union exists to negotiate through collective bargaining drug detection methods and penalties.
For two decades, while other pro sports leagues as well as the N.C.A.A. and the United States Olympic Committee were developing and fine-tuning testing programs, Nascar simply declared that the misuse and abuse of any drug constituted a violation. Testing was initiated only by “reasonable suspicion.” The approach was sufficient to ensnare some drivers.
But after Aaron Fike of the truck series was arrested in July 2007 with heroin and then disclosed to ESPN the Magazine in April 2008 that he had taken the drug before a race, Nascar adopted testing measures more in line with other sports, with a few exceptions. Last year, it announced that all drivers, crew members and officials would submit to preseason baseline tests, followed by random screenings throughout the race schedule. According to Poston, all drivers will be tested three to five times a year.
“It’s a broad, sweeping policy that makes it the best policy in sports,” Poston said in a telephone interview.
Yet several drug testing experts interviewed for this article found fault with various aspects of the program. Nascar provides its teams with a minimal list of banned substances largely by categories — amphetamines, barbiturates — instead of identifying each prohibited drug. Some experts have urged Nascar to spell out more exacting penalties for violations, which so far have been open-ended and indefinite in length, and to more formally accommodate exceptions on drugs for therapy.
According to Don Catlin, the founder of the U.C.L.A. Olympic Analytical Lab, Nascar should recognize that “there are drugs that go both ways — for nefarious purposes and for a therapeutic use.”
Poston says waivers for forbidden drugs are granted for necessary medicinal purposes. David Black, a forensic toxicologist, administers Nascar’s testing program through his lab, Aegis in Nashville. “They just need to be in touch with Dr. Black and they work it out,” Poston said.
Gary Wadler of the New York University School of Medicine, who helped compile the roster of prohibited drugs for the World Anti-Doping Agency, said he considered Nascar’s program “woefully adequate.” He said Major League Baseball and the N.F.L. “are light years ahead of where I believe Nascar is.”
Not having a defined list of banned substances renders the program “inherently unfair,” said Charles Yesalis, a Penn State professor of health policy and a longtime adviser on drug policy to sports organizations.
Because sports leagues have a financial incentive not to sideline stars, Yesalis said third-party administering of testing provided more integrity to the process.
Mayfield’s lawyer Bill Diehl accused Nascar of singling out his client, a midlevel driver on the Sprint Cup circuit who has not won a race since 2005. “It’s all contrived, made up,” Diehl said.
In a motion filed Monday in United States District Court in Charlotte, N.C., Mayfield’s lawyers contended Judge Graham Mullen properly ruled when he granted the injunction July 1.
Even if the court allows Mayfield to continue racing, the legal victory may prove Pyrrhic. The driving team that he owned has collapsed, sponsorship money has dried up and his career is in shambles.