The Other Side of the Matter
Over the past two weeks, Dirty Mo Media and the Dale Jr. Download have taken on the Herculean task of telling one of the most riveting tales in the history of auto racing, the rise and fall of Jeremy Mayfield. Originally hailing from Owensboro, Kentucky, Mayfield burst onto the NASCAR Cup scene in the mid-1990s after finding success at the ARCA level in 1993. In just a few short seasons, the prospect established himself as one of the most polarizing characters in the NASCAR garage, eventually taking on everyone from the Intimidator, to car owners and NASCAR itself. His unapologetic and outspoken demeanor would find him embroiled in one of the biggest NASCAR controversies in the modern era, a story that has become a pillar of racing folklore.
Never ones to shy away from difficult conversations, Dale Jr. and co-host Mike Davis invited Mayfield to the Bojangles Studio for a lengthy, in depth interview diving into the dispute and the events that may or may not have led up to it. The conversation between Dale Jr. and Mayfield stemmed from a recent chance encounter at Mountain Creek Speedway, where Dale invited Mayfield to the studio to tell his side of the story. The interview spanned several hours, and has been split into two installments, episodes 384 and 385 respectively. Rather than a chronological approach, the conversation dives straight into the moment that Mayfield’s promising driving career came to a screeching halt, when he failed a NASCAR-ordered drug test in 2009 and was suspended indefinitely. The suspension spurred a long legal battle between Mayfield and NASCAR that became one of the biggest scandals the sanctioning body ever faced.
NASCAR’s official policy on illegal substance use started in 1988, and gained attention immediately when popular Cup driver Tim Richmond was suspended for failing a drug test. Richmond tested positive for what NASCAR considered “banned substances”, which were revealed to be high-levels of Sudafed and Advil. In April of that year, Richmond would sue NASCAR and the two parties would settle out of court. In 2007, NASCAR Truck racer Aaron Fike was arrested for drug possession, and subsequently suspended from competition. In an interview the following year, Fike admitted to racing while under the influence, which caused NASCAR to re-evaluate their substance-use procedures.
Beginning in 2009, NASCAR announced it would include randomized drug testing as part of their crackdown on illegal substance abuse. The sanctioning body initially avoided use of a “banned substance list”, leaving what would be considered “illegal” up to their discretion. Reportedly, the lack of written rule had the NASCAR garage in a state of panic, afraid of what substances could trigger the new sweeping, broad tests and result in suspension. On May 9th, Mayfield was found to be in violation of the policy when he failed his administered drug test at Richmond Raceway. Mayfield claimed that a combination of over the counter and prescribed medicines, similar to what landed Richmond in hot water, generated a positive result. Meanwhile, Dr. David Black, who was heading up the NASCAR substance-testing through his private company AEGIS held strong that the test results indicated a clear violation of policy, and high levels of a “drug of concern”.
During Episode 384, Mayfield recounted the events from 2009 and divulged that he was taking doctor prescribed Adderall and Claritin-D, which was a sponsor of Carl Edwards at the time, for allergies. NASCAR kept the details of the test results private for several months, but in June stories began to circulate that Mayfield tested positive for methamphetamine. Mayfield maintained his innocence following his suspension, raising several concerns with Dr. Black and NASCAR’s testing process. He refused to take part in a rehabilitation process and the new “Road to Recovery” program, insisting that he was only following his doctor’s orders.
Mayfield decided to sue NASCAR for his right to compete, bringing in a second opinion that indicated there was a chance that his medication could trigger a false positive in Black’s test. A US District Court Judge granted a temporary injunction that lifted the suspension, allowing Mayfield to return to track activities. However, following the court decision, NASCAR retested Mayfield on July 6th in an effort to uphold the integrity of their substance-abuse policy. Mayfield explained that NASCAR officials showed up at his residence to conduct the screening, and once it was complete he drove to a near-by hospital to be retested, a move he learned from Richmond’s dealings with NASCAR in the late 80s. On July 15th, it was revealed that Mayfield had once again tested positive for methamphetamine. Mayfield then countered with the results from the second test, which showed he was negative.
In the weeks that followed, a federal appeals court overturned the previous injunction and a separate court hearing determined that Mayfield forfeited his right to sue NASCAR by attending a sanctioned event. The decisions effectively ended Mayfield’s career in NASCAR, and unfortunately marked just the beginning of his legal woes. Mayfield described a scene from 2011, when his home was raided by the Catawba County Sheriff’s Department due to a tip from an informant regarding stolen property in his possession. He was charged with 28 different felonies, and although this kept him in and out of court for the next several years, eventually most of the charges were dropped in favor of some lesser misdemeanors.
Through all of this, Mayfield has insisted his innocence in all malfeasance. He took time during the interview to explain his theory that he was set up by NASCAR and Dr. Black, as well as others. He was careful to outline what motive the brass in NASCAR may have for discrediting him and attempting to banish him from competition. Since NASCAR’s testing policy was early in its existence, it was imperative that it was established as foolproof, and a highly publicized dispute such as this endangered its credibility. He believes that he was made an example to the other drivers in the garage. But then again, why him?
To answer this question, the interview took a look at Mayfield’s rise to prominence in NASCAR. His rapid ascent took him from working as a fabricator and driving a late model for the Sadler Brothers race team, to driving for Cale Yarborough and Roger Penske in just a handful of years. Along the way, he picked up Rookie of the Year honors in the ARCA ranks and began winning at the Cup level, bringing home his first winner’s trophy at the 1998 Pocono 500. In 2000, he even famously took on Dale Earnhardt Sr., bumping him out of the way to return to victory lane at Pocono, resulting in the Intimidator “saluting” him with an obscene gesture, a photograph that is still heavily in circulation to this day as one of the most quintessential moments in Cup history.
Mayfield’s time with Penske was contentious though, as he explained in Episode 385. His relationship with teammate Rusty Wallace became strained due to their highly competitive nature, and after a few years Mayfield was released mid-season after the 2001 Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway. The beginning of the 2002 race season saw him sign with Evernham Motorsports, replacing Casey Atwood. He would return to victory lane in 2004 by winning the fall race at Richmond, clinching a spot in the inaugural Chase for the Championship. But, in 2006 the No. 19 Dodge began to struggle, only placing in the top 15 twice in the first half of the season. He was released before the Watkins Glen event, with the reason being that the car had fallen out of the top 35 in the points standings. In reality though, the relationship between Mayfield and Evernham had fractured due to off track struggles.
During the 2006 season, Mayfield blamed the team struggles on Evernham’s lack of hands-on direction, instead paying close attention to then-developmental driver Erin Crocker. Mayfield referred to Evernham as an “absentee-owner” and tipped reporters off to a close-personal relationship that Evernham, who was married at the time, and Crocker had developed. The conflict became heated, with the two sides exchanging barbs in the media week after week. Evernham felt betrayed by Mayfield, and their differences became irreconcilable. Thus laid the groundwork for Mayfield’s swift exit from the NASCAR garage.
Brian France, who was CEO and Chairman of NASCAR at the time, was protective of NASCAR team owners, feeling that they were an integral part to the success of the sport. Alternatively, he reportedly saw drivers in more of a “laborer” role, being more expendable. Mayfield believes that France took exception to his speaking out against Evernham in such a public light, and that it brought embarrassment to car owners and the Cup garage as a whole. In fact, Mayfield explained that France’s ex-wife reached out to him and confirmed the suspicions, and even testified on his behalf during the ongoing court battle. Mayfield also believes that the final straw came when he initially won his court case against NASCAR, and pointed out that France was present in court when the judge awarded the temporary injunction.
The two-part interview is a comprehensive look at one of the biggest controversies the sport has ever faced. Dale Jr. and Davis provide an unbiased platform for Mayfield to explain his side of the events, and are careful to leave everything open for interpretation by Download listeners. Was this all an elaborate scheme to oust a driver that NASCAR saw as problematic? Did NASCAR feel that they needed to demonstrate and protect their newly established substance abuse policy? We may never know for sure, but these recordings will serve as an archived resource for discourse on the matter for generations to come.