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Random Lugnuts: Mayfield's Case About More Than Drug Testing

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Jeremy Mayfield, NASCAR
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Random Lugnuts: Mayfield's Case About More Than Drug Testing

Bill Crittenden
July 2, 2009

It's been 60 years since NASCAR's first Strictly Stock race when Glenn Dunnaway's car crossed the finish line first but was disqualified for non-stock rear springs.  It was back then in 1949 when Dunnaway's owner Hubert Westmoreland sued NASCAR for $10,000 and North Carolina Judge John Hayes set the precedent that has allowed NASCAR to administer its own punishments for violations under its rules without fear of legal action.  Since then we've endured decades of bad calls and one of the most ridiculous rules violations in all of motorsports called "Actions Detrimental to Stock Car Racing," and NASCAR hasn't been held responsible for any of it aside from the occasional critical interview comment.

Wednesday's injunction by U.S. District Court Judge Graham Mullen against NASCAR's suspension of Jeremy Mayfield certainly looks like it could mean the beginning of the the end of an era that stretches back to the very beginning of what we now know as stock car racing.  For once, NASCAR has had to answer for one of its decisions and has been reversed by someone even more powerful than the management of NASCAR, which has ruled over the sport with an iron fisted control that even Joseph Stalin would be envious of.  Power to the people!  Freedom on the Fourth of July!  That's a good thing, right?  In this case, probably not.

While I certainly disagree with big decisions by NASCAR management as often as I agree with them, including aspects of it's drug testing policy, a court case ruled against a NASCAR judgement is a Pandora's Box that we may regret ever seeing opened.  Justice for the wronged and the fans who have watched the sport make an embarrassment of itself may cost more than anyone anticipates.  What might have happened in the past had the precedent of Hayes' decision not been in place?  Can you imagine a Florida court deciding the outcome of the controversial 2007 Daytona 500 finish?  How about an owner or driver who feels they lost a race because of a fake caution thrown for the sake of a more exciting finish (see the end of the Manipulating the outcome of races section of Wikipedia's Criticism of NASCAR page)?

What's so wrong with a little justice and accountability for NASCAR?  Nothing, in principle.  In practice, however, justice in the American court system takes time, and with just about seven days between one race and the next, not counting time at the track practicing and qualifying, there isn't much left over for court dates.  In this instance, although vindicated, Jeremy Mayfield still missed seven races under suspension.  The two scenarios previously mentioned involve points, and can you imagine starting the Chase not quite sure who's really even in it because a court case is still pending involving the 40 or 50 points (or a 100 point penalty) that's the difference between a driver getting in or missing out?

Of course, there are certainly plenty of ways in which NASCAR could reassert control over the situation by making life difficult for Jeremy Mayfield and his team, from shenanigans at tech inspection to pressuring the rest of the garage to make Mayfield feel unwelcome.  I think that they're doing that already, or do you really think it was solely the consciences of Jimmie Johnson, Robby Gordon and Jeff Gordon that led them to file their "form-letter" affadavits against Mayfield and pressure from NASCAR's management had absolutely nothing to do with it?  Tommy Baldwin has already referred to Mayfield as "marked," which really could either mean he's unsponsorable for being associated with methamphetamine use or he's got a bullseye on his back, courtesy of NASCAR management.  Or both.  The affadavits and any sort of retaliation against Mayfield would prove they hadn't learned their lesson, because it's just more of the same sort of attitude that got them in this mess in the first place.

And it was NASCAR's management who got themselves into this mess.  Like many fans I would love to see NASCAR act more responsibly and be more accountable for its actions and treat its participants fairly.  And while I didn't really want to see the day when NASCAR rules are challenged in the courts, I can't blame Jeremy Mayfield one bit for taking his fight to there.  In fact, it was NASCAR's mismanagement that created this situation, and it was only a matter of time before a driver or owner finally had enough of one bad policy or another and brought their arguments before a judge.  That point was reached when one man was brought down to the point where he had nothing to lose, and the traditional threats of further punishment were meaningless to him.

Whether NASCAR prevails and proves that not even a court decision can prevent them from excercising control over stock car racing's participants or that control is lost to the courts, July 1, 2009 was an important day in the history of stock car racing.  Whatever happens next, remember that date, because this is about more than a struggling veteran driver's career or a haphazard drug policy just as sure as Hayes' decision sixty years ago had implications far beyond a mere ten grand and rear springs.

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