Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Rusty Wallace Steps-Up And Calls For Changes
NASCAR Now faced a big issue on Wednesday when it had to address the recent drug admissions of Aaron Fike and the subsequent topic of NASCAR's seemingly out-of-date drug policy.
Fike disclosed to ESPN's Ryan McGee that his painkiller and heroin addiction had included racing when he was under the influence. The simple admission was shocking.
Taking this ESPN the Magazine story and translating it to TV meant that only one person could deliver the content. The NASCAR Now production team followed through by having Ryan McGee interviewed by host Nicole Manske at the top of the show.
McGee was outstanding in delivering the information without criticizing Fike or inserting his own opinion of the situation. He simply delivered the content from his interview of Fike and his subsequent story. McGee should be a regular visitor to this program if he continues to work the NASCAR beat for ESPN the Magazine.
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston was on by phone and repeated the policy of the organization that has been in-place for many years. Manske pressed Poston on several points, but he made it clear that NASCAR is going to continue to drug test for "reasonable suspicion" only at this time.
While Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace appeared next to address the drug testing issue, it was Wallace who spoke-out once again. Manske got Wallace wound-up and Rusty said what many inside and outside the industry have been saying. It was time for a change.
Drawing an interesting parallel to the passing of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and the resulting emphasis on safety, Wallace suggested Fike admitting that he raced in NASCAR on heroin should also start the ball rolling on changes. He specifically mentioned random post-race testing and mentioned that his own racing company randomly drug tests employees of all types every month.
Next up was Mike Skinner, and Manske did not mince words when she asked him about his own son being arrested for drugs and if this new drug culture should result in change. Skinner was up-front as always, and said he was not opposed to all NASCAR drivers being regularly tested. As with most drivers, Skinner tried to remain positive about the sport and not allow this topic to grow.
It was Dr. Gary Wadler from the World Anti-Doping Agency who put things quietly in perspective and left NASCAR a lot to ponder. Asked specifically about heroin, Wadler said regular users may not exhibit any signs that non-heroin users would notice. Other than the often mentioned needle marks and perhaps a somewhat tired appearance, Wadler said what many already knew. Often, there is no way to tell.
If anyone on the NASCAR Now staff tried to tell Chip Ganassi in advance that he would be asked about NASCAR's drug policy, Ganassi must not have answered the phone. After a couple of brief questions about why several of his NASCAR teams were running poorly, Manske asked Ganassi point blank "how would you like to see NASCAR do its drug testing?"
For the first time in perhaps decades, Chip Ganassi was speechless. Telling Manske that she caught him off-guard, Ganassi opted-out and toed the party line. He did add that that NASCAR should do what every other (professional) sport is doing in terms of testing.
In thirty minutes, Manske and NASCAR Now had the original reporter that broke the story, a NASCAR spokesman, two ESPN NASCAR analysts, a current driver who raced with Fike, a top drug testing authority and a multi-series car owner.
This is exactly the type of content and the style of delivery that NASCAR fans have been asking for in this TV series. Manske can now ask the hard questions without being rude, and has a good sense of when enough is enough. In this program, she never let-up and kept the intensity and the drug testing theme going for the entire thirty minutes.
This show was a good response to an important story in a timely fashion. It focused on information and did not promote hype or speculation. The continuing maturity of the personnel involved in NASCAR Now both in-front of and behind the camera where news priorities and story content are concerned has been fun to watch this season.
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