Questioning the results of a drug test, a federal judge on Wednesday cleared the way for suspended NASCAR driver Jeremy Mayfield to race again – possibly as early as this weekend at Daytona International Speedway.
U.S. District Judge Graham Mullen lifted a suspension against Mayfield that NASCAR imposed in May after the race car driver tested positive for methamphetamine, a potent stimulant that can impair judgment and increase risk taking.
Mayfield sued NASCAR and Wednesday challenged in court the accuracy of the test procedures and findings. His lawyer contended the test was botched in several ways.
In lifting the suspension, the judge said the likelihood of a false positive in Mayfield's drug test is substantial.
NASCAR's lawyer had warned that Mayfield's return to the track could endanger drivers and fans.
But Mullen ruled that the harm to Mayfield's career outweighs the harm to NASCAR.
In an affidavit, Mayfield wrote about the devastating financial impact the drug test has had on his racing team and family – saying he's had to lay off employees and borrow money to pay his living expenses.
“I believe my career will be effectively over if I am forced to sit out the rest of this season,” he wrote.
The judge said Mayfield will have to comply with NASCAR's drug testing. He noted the sanctioning body can test him again if they suspect drug use is a problem.
“Get a sample of his hair to find out if he's a meth head,” Mullen said.
“I'm happy,” a smiling Mayfield told reporters as he left the courthouse. “I'm going to go back racing. I'm glad the justice system works the way it does .... We're going to try to race this weekend.”
Shana Mayfield hugged her husband's lawyer, Bill Diehl, as they left the courthouse.
“My husband didn't do what he's been accused of doing,” she said. “He can clear his name now. His name and image have been tarnished.”
NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said: “We are disappointed, but we respect the judge's ruling. This is only a temporary injunction. The legal case continues beyond this point, and we will continue to make our case.”
NASCAR officials must still decide whether to appeal Wednesday's decision.
Mayfield is the first driver in the sport's top division to be suspended under new drug-testing rules.
Before last September, NASCAR's policy permitted testing when officials had a “reasonable suspicion” someone is using a banned substance. Then it joined the ranks of most other professional sports, adopting a random drug-testing policy for drivers and over-the-wall pit crew members in its three national touring series as well as NASCAR officials beginning this season.
Mayfield has said his positive test was the result of taking a prescribed attention-deficit-disorder drug (Adderall) and an over-the-counter allergy medicine (Claritin D).
But during Wednesday's hearing, Diehl also argued that Mayfield's drug test had been botched. Diehl acknowledged that the test showed large amounts of methamphetamine in the urine sample, but said his client exhibited no physical symptoms of drug abuse.
“This driver has absolutely no history of drug abuse,” Diehl told the judge. “If he had that volume of methamphetamine in his system when they tested him, he would be a walking zombie or dead.”
He cited several ways NASCAR and its lab mishandled the drug test.
Mayfield was never informed that he could request that an independent lab analyze one of his two urine samples, Diehl said. Both samples have already been tested and their seals broken, he said, so Mayfield lost his opportunity to have an independent analysis.
Diehl also suggested a mistake may have made in the testing or that the urine samples got mixed up at the lab. He told the judge the company that tested Mayfield's urine conducts about 3,000 drug tests a day.
Diehl urged the judge to correct an injustice: “He has been arrested. He has been tried. And he has been convicted,” he said.
“Independence Day for Jeremy ought to be today. He ought to get his privilege to drive back.”
NASCAR's lawyer, Helen Maher, told the judge that NASCAR's goal is to keep its drivers, crew members and fans safe. She said the sport would be tarnished if drug users are allowed to race.
Maher defended the testing procedure and results, saying Mayfield asked NASCAR to go ahead and test his second urine sample. She said four tests have been performed on the samples and they all showed that Mayfield had ingested methamphetamine.
“He tested positive for an illegal drug and endangered the lives of everybody around him ...,” Maher said. “This is about mind-altering illegal drugs ... If he is allowed to race again while this litigation is pending, it's possible he'll end up hurting or killing someone.”
Methamphetamine, which can be smoked, injected, snorted or ingested, is a stimulant with a high potential for abuse and dependence. The drug's euphoric effects are similar to, but longer lasting than, those of cocaine.
NASCAR has countersued Mayfield, and said the driver willfully violated the sanctioning body's substance abuse policy, was in breach of contract, and defrauded NASCAR and its competitors of earnings.
NASCAR claims that more than $150,000 in prize money was improperly awarded to Mayfield and said he was in three wrecks in the five Sprint Cup races he competed in this season while drugs were in his system.
Mayfield, a professional driver for 17 years and the principal owner of Mayfield Motorsports, has called the drug test erroneous.
“I have never taken methamphetamines in my life,” Mayfield wrote in an affidavit for Wednesday's hearing.
Mayfield wrote that the drug test has cost him dearly. He has lost a major sponsor, he said, and has been unable to find smaller sponsors. His team also has had to lay off 10 employees.
“My wife and I are now forced to borrow funds from family members and to sell personal assets in order to meet our living expenses,” Mayfield wrote. “I have always anticipated that I would be able to race for another ten years ...”
“I am afraid that I will have to sell my race team, and I know of no other way to make a living except as a professional race car driver ... I do not understand how or why this is happening to me and my family.”
Staff writer Lindsay Ruebens and researcher Maria David contributed.