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Time for Denial is Long Past
by Tom Bowles
It’s been a little over 48 hours since Jeremy Mayfield’s final NASCAR chapter — filled with drugs, guns, allegedly stolen equipment — and the stench of an ugly lie has been revealed. It’s the last bit of content for what will be a 500-page, tell-all book someday, but now with the wounds still fresh I can only summarize two years of Mayfield mayhem in just one word:
I’m sorry for fans, hundreds of thousands who put this athlete on a pedestal he never deserved. Competing in the number one racing series in America, Mayfield drove for some of the sport’s best car owners (Roger Penske, Ray Evernham) while racking up five wins and making the Chase for the Championship twice. You don’t accomplish that without inheriting the role model tag, as kids sitting at home watched this Kentuckian muscle his way to the front and labeled him a hero. When you move Dale Earnhardt, of all people, out of the way to earn a trip to Victory Lane (see: Pocono, 2000) you’re going to earn a degree of admiration and respect. When vaulting from promising youngster to public figure, living up to lofty expectations becomes a necessity.
Instead, it’s all too often the first chapter that hooks you through admiration while the athlete starts a tragic play. Fans attached to that quirky, aggressive personality, tricked by the hallmark of Mayfield’s career on the circuit to the point they never thought it would bring him down. Yes, speaking out led to pink slips along the way for Mayfield, but to those who loved him they were battle scars for brutal honesty in an age of political correctness.
Perhaps the greatest example is his departure from Evernham’s car in 2006; as a parting shot, he blew the car owner’s cover concerning a romantic relationship with another driver within the organization, Erin Crocker. For months, the media had kept it quiet, as fear of retribution (Evernham was divorcing, Crocker was half his age) drove their silence. But Mayfield, pushed by poor performance and alleged mistreatment, had no problem blazing his own trail without fear.
So it was no wonder, then, on the heels of a positive test for methamphetamine so many bent over backwards to believe him. Since that fateful May day in 2009 when one failed urine sample led to an indefinite suspension by NASCAR, Mayfield has been trumpeting his innocence loud and clear. “It was a setup,” he claimed, accusing NASCAR chairman Brian France of being out to get him while alleging the sport’s drug handling methods were so sloppy, kindergarteners could do a better job. Claiming a combination of over-the-counter mediation, Claritin-D and an ADHD drug, Adderall, caused the mix-up, Mayfield came up with a plausible story that Joe Fan on the street could believe. It was the classic tale of the blue-collar worker trying to start his own business, but being railroaded by the big, bad, greedy white-collar men in suits.
Even when his own stepmother backed up NASCAR’s claims, Mayfield was able to turn the public court of opinion in his favor. He was the double-jeopardy victim, haunted by an unwanted family member. Hanging on every word, fans’ hearts were broken and a select few even turned their back on the sport over a punishment many felt was simply unwarranted.
How do all those people feel now? Sick to their stomach, as their loyalty was repaid by lies. It’s hard enough to handle mistrust when it happens within your day-to-day life. But when a role model breaks the code? It’s somehow harder to handle, your version of a perfect example turning forever flawed.
I’m sorry for Jeremy’s wife, Shana, who may be facing a reality check she can’t turn away from, although it’s uncertain whether she was an accomplice or unknowing victim. Even on her Twitter feed this week, Shana Mayfield was alleging a set up. But 50 guns, 1.5 grams of meth and a potential $100,000 in stolen items — all found on Mayfield’s property — don’t just magically appear. Call me crazy, but if the big, bad NASCAR men tried to haul gigantic pieces of metal onto the property and plant drugs in the house, I don’t think she and Jeremy would sleep through it.
Let’s hope the wife, of all people, wakes up before it’s too late. Sometimes, for drug users it’s the main enabler screaming, “Stop!” that makes the difference between abuse and recovery.
I’m sorry for many of the media, including myself, along with several garage insiders who read of Mayfield’s arrest and wondered what, if anything, we could have done differently. Journalists are taught to report without bias, but the degree of 50/50 reporting, in hindsight, showcases how many of us were sucked into this mythical web. From May 2009, when Mayfield filed a lawsuit to try and get his indefinite suspension lifted, to early July, when Judge Graham Mullen granted a temporary injunction, many in NASCAR’s garage area came out in support of the driver. Even the judge appeared sold in his initial ruling, concluding the possibility of a false positive “was quite substantial” based on the way NASCAR’s drug lab, Aegis Laboratories, handled the sample. How could you not have seeds of doubt in your head, to the point you’re asking people if the sport is ready to change their drug policy in light of a possible mistake?
Weeks later, a second positive test for meth caused Mullen to quickly reverse that ruling, but the Mayfield damage had already been done. For some, no amount of positive testing would alter his innocence, as the driver became a symbol of the one man that stepped up to fight the establishment.
And that’s where I’m sorry for NASCAR. In a two-year span, its drug policy — instituted with the best of intentions — was publicly dragged through the mud. David Black, the head of Aegis for a time, was made out to be an arrogant fool, mishandling samples while accused of ignoring others to persecute the NASCAR-selected guilty. The sport’s CEO got it worst of all; Mayfield tried to out anything and everything about France, from his divorce to financial issues to insinuating he had his own past history of drug use. As the mainstream media caught on to the madness, it was nothing less than a black eye during a time when attendance, TV ratings and a sport’s reputation were already taking punches from other sources.
It took two years for closure to come, but the knockout punch landed squarely on Mayfield himself. But who can trump victory here? Ugly wars don’t come with squeaky-clean finishes. Instead, it’s the victims who are left to clean up the mess and move forward. And while you’re sorry and I’m sorry, the only person not apologizing is the one who stirred up all these feelings in the first place.
“Mr. Mayfield has no knowledge of either stolen property or methamphetamine being present on his property,” says Daniel Marino, the latest attorney for the driver (some of his predecessors still haven’t been paid, yet another sign ignored through the strength of Mayfield’s lies). “He denies the accusation that he was in possession of methamphetamine or any illegal drug, and he denies any suggestion that he knowingly received or possessed stolen property.”
Here we go again. In the face of certain disaster, Mayfield goes back to the one tried-and-true method he feels has kept him afloat these past two years: lying, straight-faced to the public.
The problem is no one believes him anymore. That means Mayfield can no longer win … and neither can anyone else.
Agree with Tom? Disagree? Post a comment below and tell him how you feel. You can also follow Tom on Twitter @NASCARBowles