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WOODY: NASCAR has zero tolerance for drugs, excuses

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A.J. Allmendinger is the latest racer deemed too dangerous and/or too dumb to drive in NASCAR.

Allmendinger, a promising young talent, was suspended for violating the sport's substance-abuse policy and subsequently was booted from Penske Racing, one of the sport's top rides.

Some think NASCAR's drug policy is too strict, too rigid. The drug found in Allmendinger's system last month reportedly was Adderall, a prescription drug, not a so-called "street drug."

Allmendinger initially plead innocent – or ignorant -- claiming he didn't know the pill(s) he ingested contained a banned amphetamine.

If that's true, then he's too stupid to be behind the wheel of a high-speed race car.

Think about it: a young racer who has worked hard to land a dream ride – a ride thousands of other aspiring youngsters would die for – blithely consumes a substance that for all he knows could destroy his career.

If I were a driver I wouldn't take a cough drop before clearing every ingredient on the box with NASCAR.

Allmendinger is not the first NASCAR driver whose career screeched to a halt over a tainted urine sample. A couple of years ago bright young driver Jeremy Mayfield's career – and life – began to unravel when he was suspended for violating NASCAR's zero-tolerance drug policy.

When news first broke about Mayfield's flunked drug test I didn't believe it. I have known Mayfield for over 20 years, since he moved to Nashville from Owensboro, Ky., to drive for Sadler Racing.

I knew how hard he worked, sweeping the shop floors and doing odd jobs while working his way into an ARCA ride and eventually parlaying that into a million-dollar NASCAR  Cup Series contract.

I refused to believe that Mayfield would risk throwing it all away. I defended him right to the end when the evidence became irrefutable.

I was never more surprised – and disappointed – in anyone in my life.

Before that there was the case of Tim Richmond, the first NASCAR driver to destroy his career with drug use. Richmond was one of the most talented young racers ever to wheel a race car, but it all came crashing down in 1988 when he failed a drug test.

Richmond protested, swearing his innocence, but the evidence proved otherwise. A year later he was dead of AIDS.

NASCAR is unlike most other pro sports when it comes to drugs. They talk tough but give offenders chance after chance. In NASCAR one strike and they're out.

The stakes in racing are different from other sports. In baseball an impaired player might drop a fly ball; in football he might fumble; in racing he might crash and kill himself and everybody around him.

A NASCAR driver who gets suspended for drugs is not technically banned for life. If he completes a mandatory recovery program he can, at some point, get his license back.

But that doesn't mean he'll ever race again. NASCAR is a sponsor-driven sport in which a driver's image is as important as his driving ability. Once he's branded with racing's scarlet letter – D for drugs – it's hard to overcome.

Even if he were fortunate enough to land a lower-level ride, there will always be an uneasy cloud of suspicion hanging over him. If he was reckless enough to do it once, might he be reckless enough to do it again?

When it comes to drug use, racing is an unforgiving sport.

Larry Woody can be contacted at larrywoody@gmail.com.
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