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Brad Keselowski Comments Stir Debate in NASCAR

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With one week off before the Brickyard 400, the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series are enjoying life away from the motorhome gauntlet that is their home away from home for the better part of the year.

Jeff Gordon is in Rwanda (which is beautiful this time of year) with former President Bill Clinton. No, he really is — that’s not just a cover for WJC. His teammate, Jimmie Johnson, went triatholoning with another teammate, Kasey Kahne, while A.J. Allmendinger is likely holed up somewhere resembling Riggs in the first 10 minutes of Lethal Weapon (YouTube it) while he awaits the results of his “B” sample.

Speaking of Allmendinger, his teammate Brad Keselowski had a few things to say about substance abuse and NASCAR’s policy, as well as his own feelings of what should and shouldn’t be allowed in the sport.

While last Sunday’s race was largely forgettable (save for those two passes for the lead under green – that’s right, literally two of them) Keselowski’s comments regarding the plight of Allmendinger and the state of the sport’s drug testing procedure was notable. Keselowski disagreed with Carl Edwards’ assertion that drivers should have their own testing firm representing them to validate the findings of Aegis Analytical Laboratories, NASCAR’s chosen testing group. I would side with BK on this one, as that smacks of a “driver’s union” which, as we’ve seen in the past, only ends badly, and never accomplishes much of an objective.

Where I disagree with Keselowski’s meandering rant is with his attitude towards taking any supplements – legal or otherwise.

“My personal belief that nothing should be allowed,” Keselowski stated. “Nothing. I don't feel like you should be able to take Flintstones (vitamins) pills. It's my personal belief. You're racecar drivers, you should have to overcome it. I think it's a bunch of bull___ people should be allowed to take supplements, any of those things. I don't think that's right. I don't think any athlete should be allowed to take that. But that's my own personal belief.”

Now, I’ll preface my reaction to this by saying I am a huge Brad K. guy. I think he’s great for the sport. I always appreciate his insight and honesty and believe he truly is one of the most talented drivers of our era and will one day deliver Roger Penske that elusive Sprint Cup championship.

That said, his comments are those made by someone who has no clue whatsoever about nutrition, training and taking care of one’s body.

First of all, let’s take a look at the term “supplement”: “Something that completes or enhances something else when added to it. Typically that would include things such as protein powders (i.e., powdered milk), thermogenics (herbal extracts which help burn fat, increase metabolism, and provide alertness – not unlike coffee), vitamins, (basic minerals and nutrients required for proper cell and organ function), and a host of other powders, shakes, creams, oils, and things both natural or made in a lab to help you recover and perform during the course of strenuous physical activity.”

This, as opposed to say, slamming beers in Victory Lane minutes after losing 10 pounds in water weight over the course of a three-hour race. Regardless of what sport you’re in or your feelings toward physical fitness, alcohol + dehydration is not a winning combination — and using Keselowski’s rigorous standards, would have almost guaranteed that he would have failed a random test prior to his press conference after his winning the Nationwide event Sunday in Loudon.

“I laugh out loud when I read that people say, ‘Well I have my supplements checked,’” Keselowski said in response to Danica Patrick’s statement that her trainer reviews her dietary supplements to ensure there’s no risk of her taking something she should not. “Like there's some special list of supplements that are OK, but these aren't! What kind of world is that? That's terrible. Nothing should be allowed. Because then it comes down to if you've got a doctor or a lawyer who says, ‘This is OK and this is not.’ And I think we all know you can get a doctor or a lawyer these days to say you're OK with anything you do.”

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As my Dad would say: “He’s talking like a man with a paper a$$hole.” To this day I have no idea what that means, and is yet another reason why I regret not having served in the Air Force, where apparently he encountered many such individuals with pulpwood colons.

Checking supplements for items that, at certain levels, may a positive reading for something untoward is imperative. Whispers centering around Allmendinger testing positive for a stimulant in an energy drink or a substance that is performance-related have been the focus of some speculation. But speculation is just that. The point is, doctors and lawyers actually do decide what is OK, as that is part of their job; this level/substance/supplement is safe, this is not. This will probably kill you, this will make you not have to leave your shirt on at the pool.

While Keselowski’s comments make for good sound bites (and are the type of no-nonsense/tough-guy talk the sport has desperately missed) it is ignorant at best, and at worst, misinformed. They’re also insulting to those who train, sacrifice, and take a fanatical approach to physical health and nutrition. Carl Edwards, Mark Martin, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray have all taken conditioning and preparation to the next level in NASCAR which is at least part of the reason they are consistently able to perform at the level they do — and not look or sound like they’ve been through five rounds in the Octagon with Anderson Silva after climbing from a 500-mile summer Sunday afternoon.

Then again, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have never been known to cruise around with their shirts off – and those trips to Dairy Queen didn’t seem to slow Smoke down in last year’s Chase.

Keselowski’s closing remarks brought the argument full-circle:

“I'm sure I have different views than everyone else. I don't think there needs to be any committee that approves drugs or supplements because I think you shouldn't be allowed to take anything. You should just man up and drive the damn racecar.”

Nobody – certainly not I – would accuse Keselowski of not manning up and driving his racecar. From his grotesquely violent accident at Road Atlanta to getting walled (and roofed) by Edwards at Atlanta in 2010 to getting T-boned by half the field at Gateway later that same season, Brad’s “Bad” moniker should be recognized for his intestinal fortitude and tough-as-nails efforts for his team. He’s as close to a throwback driver as we have today, along with Stewart and Martin; Martin simply because, at 53, was part of another era.

There is, however, a distinct difference between supplements, performance-enhancing drugs and otherwise illegal-unless-prescribed drugs. Thus, there may be a completely logical explanation in the case of Allmendinger. Is this Jeremy Mayfield running speed? Lord, I hope not. Is it Aaron Fike going Layne Staley with a syringe and spoon in an amusement park parking lot? Doubtful.

Linking the three as Keselowski was doing was both unfortunate, distorted and a bit misleading – even if unintentionally so.

Insinuating that nutritional aids and supplements are of a similar caliber as anabolic-androgenic steroids, synthetic hormones, narcotics or amphetamines, and speaking to it publicly as if fact was inaccurate and only served to spread patently false information, painting basic nutrition and training tools as something underhanded and unethical.

If this was a matter of semantics and confusing the terminology, then I understand. Until then, I remain a bit confused and bristle at the suggestion that perfectly safe and legal substances that promote health and wellness are suddenly thrown under the bus, then backed over for good measure.


by Vito Pugliese
Follow Vito on Twitter: @VitoPugliese