TALLADEGA, Ala. – While professional sports have been hesitant to tackle the issue of substance abuse, driver and team owner Kevin Harvick has taken the direct approach of instituting a strict drug testing policy at his racing organization, putting his money where his mouth is.
In response to the recent disclosure by former NASCAR driver Aaron Fike that he competed in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race while under the influence of heroin, Harvick and his co-owner wife Delana have established a new across-the-board substance abuse policy at Kevin Harvick, Inc.
"After the whole drug testing thing in Phoenix we went home and changed the whole policy we have at our company," said Harvick. "Our drivers and crew chiefs volunteered to take drug tests.
"We then put a random drug testing policy in place for the entire company."
The new policy at KHI isn't unique to NASCAR. Many team owners have quietly been randomly drug testing their shop employees and transport drivers for years.
All issues regarding substance abuse in the past have routinely been dealt within teams in a discrete manner.
NASCAR has had to address publicly at least one such incident a year for the past three years, but Fike's revelations put the issue front and center.
Harvick argued that the current drug policy in place by NASCAR should be expanded to include anyone working in the garage with a "hard card" – the name given to the annual credential.
Harvick outlined a procedure similar to the one he's put in place at KHI, that involves using a third-party for testing. When the employee passes the test, he or she would be given a proof of the test results. That proof would then be given to NASCAR as part of the hard card application process.
"I really think this hard card thing would fix a lot of our problems," said Harvick. "If everyone in this garage has a hard card, it would be a pretty simple process."
Harvick also urged NASCAR to expand its drug policy to include more stringent testing of drivers.
"When a driver is taken to the infield care center after an on track incident, he should also be tested," said Harvick.
Such a policy would mirror procedures currently in place by many large corporations, which sometimes include mandatory drug testing following an at-work accident.
Harvick's decision to enhance his organization's drug policy was welcomed by his manufacturer partner Chevrolet. KHI fields Chevrolets in both the Craftsman Truck and Nationwide Series.
"We fully support their actions," said Pat Suhy, GM Racing NASCAR Group Manager. "I think it's awesome that Kevin and Delana have stepped up to the plate and taken the issue into their own hands.
"From what we've seen, it's (substance abuse in racing) a cause for concern. I hope others follow suit."
According to spokesperson Jim Hunter, NASCAR officials have conducted several meetings about the issue and a new "enhanced" substance abuse policy will be announced in the coming weeks.
Harvick is to be applauded for his decision to make his company drug free. Not only does it set a standard for conduct in the work place, it also helps KHI promote itself as a drug-free organization to potential sponsorship partners.
It does, however, come at a price.
First, there are the legal issues involving mandatory drug testing in the workplace.
"I learned a lot about drugs over the past week, week and a half and how you can and cannot handle things legally," said Harvick.
And while it is commendable that Harvick has chosen this route for his team, one has to wonder about the ramifications should a key player in his organization fail a drug test.
Unlike other professional sports, where there are little or no sponsorship issues to contend with, the dependence upon corporate dollars by NASCAR teams brings into question whether or not strict enforcement of any substance abuse policy would make good business.
Despite the changes at KHI and the pending reshaping of the rules by NASCAR, it is likely that in the future the handling of the subject of substance abuse will continue to be dealt with quietly and out of the glare of public scrutiny, lest it further damage the credibility of the sport and those associated with it.