Since we first posted the story "Damage Done" and Aaron Fike's confessions within it, I have been bombarded with questions via email, message board, phone calls, and during radio interviews from Bakersfield to Buffalo.
For the most part, everyone asks the same ten questions, so in the name of sanity I'm going to use this space to answer those questions for one and all, for once and for all.
Did you know that Aaron Fike was going to tell you everything that he did when you originally set up the interview?
Why did it take him nine months to finally do an interview?
He's understandably embarrassed about what he's done and how his arrest went down.
Few, if any, media members called before The Mag did.
(And this is the biggest reason) Racecar driver or not, he is a still a man in the midst of a very difficult recovery process. We've all heard of 12-step plans and he's in the middle of one. Not until this spring did he feel like he was at the right stage emotionally and physically to talk about it. It's hard to blame him for that.
Is he trying to be Jose Canseco?
How the hell does a guy drive a 3400-pound racecar with heroin in his system … and finish in the top ten?
Is NASCAR ever going to let Fike race again or are they so mad about his confessions to The Mag that they'll never give him a chance?
Have a lot of Fike's former competitors called to check up on him since his arrest?
Have you talked to Aaron since the story came out?
At Phoenix, Kevin Harvick said he knew for a fact that he'd been on the track racing one other driver who was on drugs? Any idea who he was talking about?
Is NASCAR's "reasonable suspicion" policy really all that bad?
What story are you working on for a follow-up?
No. In fact, the original intent was to simply catch up with him, see if he was okay, and help him get back into a racecar. But I think the longer we talked and the more Aaron realized I wasn't there to administer a character assassination, he felt like it was okay to be honest.
There are three answers here:
Not a chance. Even though he'd clearly decided he wanted to talk about all of this, there was never any chest-thumping or "look at me" moments. If anything, the conversation was painful, not prideful.
All of the doctors that I talked to pointed to the length of time that he'd been using, which was about nine months when he was arrested last July. At that stage, his body craved drugs to go about its normal functions, not looking for a high. If someone had been using for the first or even fifteenth time, then the "high" effects would have been much more acute, making racing nearly impossible.
Without a doubt he can come back, but only if he survives the obstacle course of NASCAR's reinstatement process. He started that process over the winter by having his initial conversation with the league's outside drug consultant, Dr. David Black of Aegis Labs. It was Dr. Black who explained to me that the process is designed to be difficult so that only those who are truly committed to getting better will survive it. "Typically we talk once," he told me. "And when they realize how hard the road is going to be, they give up and I never hear from them again." As for NASCAR throwing additional beach obstacles in Fike's path, all I can tell you is that they were very cooperative in writing this piece for The Mag, even after they realized the headaches it was going to cause for them after it was published.
None. He estimates the number of phone calls he's received from the NASCAR community to be somewhere in the neighborhood of five. One of those was fellow suspended racer Tyler Walker "who called because he knew that no one had called him, so he figured he check on me." One person he is in regular contact with is his old boss, Red Horse Racing co-owner Tom DeLoach. Sadly, this seems to be a time-honored racing tradition—forgetting the people who have disappeared due to some sort of emotional or physical trouble. Two decades later, Tim Richmond's family is still bitter about the lack of phone calls from his old friends as he lay dying in a Florida hospital.
I have not. We chatted pretty regularly in the days leading up to the story being posted, but understandably he's laying low while all the arrows are being slung back and forth between NASCAR, the drivers, and the media. Look for him to resurface in the coming weeks when he launches his drug education website OnTheWinningTrack.com later this month and when the USAC Midgets return to action in mid-May.
No, but the two leading candidates are Tyler Walker and Shane Hmiel. It's no secret that Walker had a drug problem while racing in the Craftsman Truck Series during the first half of 2007 (he was suspended six weeks before Fike's arrest), though he recently told ESPN.com's David Newton that he never raced while under the influence. Both the Cup and Nationwide paddocks have long suspected that Hmiel's marijuana and cocaine problem reached the racetrack at some point between his three failed tests between 2003 and '06. "Shane had a big ol' mess with Dale Jarrett at Bristol in 2005," says one Nationwide Series team owner. "Wrecked him for no reason, flipped him off, and then gave a weird post-race interview on TV. That deal did his reputation no favors."
It's not all bad, just incomplete. NASCAR officials are right when they say it has worked well up to this point, but Fike's story is a clear indication that the 20-year old policy is no longer enough. The beauty of reasonable suspicion is that it gives the league unparalleled power to test whenever and wherever they want, now they simply need to amend that policy with more proactive random drug testing. With a big dragnet on the front end added to the one that already exists on the back end, it will be damn near impossible for anyone to slip through the cracks like Fike, Walker, and Hmiel did in the not-so-distant past. And the double threat will certainly be a big enough deterrent to make the next guy think twice before smoking, snorting, or shooting up.
I have asked my editors to do a puff piece about driver wives and their favorite sitcoms. My brain needs a break.