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It's Time NASCAR Banned Speed At Speedway

Mar 30, 2003 | The Birmingham News

Take one NASCAR pit-crew member. Put him in a fire suit. Station him on pit road. Shoot his blood pressure skyward during every pit stop. Bake at 110 degrees for four hours.

What do you get?

A recipe for fatigue trading paint with exhaustion.

Take the same pit-crew member under the same hot-house conditions. Sprinkle in a little ephedra.

Now what do you get?

An accident waiting to happen.

Speed at the speedway. Ephedra in NASCAR. It's the latest example of life interrupting sport and the newest issue facing the governing body of stock-car racing.

A NASCAR official told USA Today the other day that the organization is studying the issue. He said a ban of the controversial herbal substance contained in a lot of nutritional and dietary supplements is possible.

You don't need a wind tunnel to know which way the wind's blowing on this one. You just need the medical examiner's report that says ephedra contributed to the February death of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler from heat stroke.

He wasn't the first athlete whose death has been linked to ephedra. Is it foolish to hope he'll be the last? Are any athletes in any sport more vulnerable to heat stroke than the drivers and pit-crew workers in NASCAR?

You don't need to study the subject for years while you continue to bury athletes who are programmed from go-kart age to find any edge they can. You just need to know that the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the International Olympic Committee and the National Football League already have banned ephedra.

What do the NCAA, the IOC and the NFL know that NASCAR doesn't? Whatever it is, someone needs to get on the phone and find out.

Everyone knows the real problem with ephedra and all the possibly injurious ingredients in all the dietary and nutritional supplements you can buy at your local Wal Mart.

The manufacturer doesn't have to prove it's safe before it can bottle it and sell it. The government has to prove it's unsafe before it can take it off the shelves. That's Congress, driving backwards at 200 mph.

The good news is, NASCAR doesn't have to wait for the Senate and the House. NASCAR wouldn't let a gas man put rocket fuel in the gas tank. Why would it let him pour a different kind of rocket fuel down his throat?

No one knows how many members of how many pit crews or even, in a scarier thought, how many drivers might feel the need for a different kind of speed. One racing team member has estimated that 80 percent of Winston Cup crew members have tried a supplement containing ephedra.

Why would a tire changer or a spotter choke down pills designed to increase your heart rate and help you shed fat and fight fatigue? Is someone planning a Mr. NASCAR bodybuilding contest?

It sounds crazy, but it makes sense. You try traveling to and performing at a different race at a different track in a different state almost every week from February into November.

Try not getting tired. Try not getting fat. Try not getting fired if you're overweight and you tend to oversleep.

Try changing human nature. Hey, it says on the label to take three pills three times a day. Wouldn't six pills at a time with a caffeine chaser be even better?

NASCAR says it's all about safety, and this is a safety issue above all. No more stalling. Time to hit the gas and ban the juice

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