The headlines screamed the news when Randy LaJoie was suspended from NASCAR for violation of the sport’s stringent substance abuse policy. Now that he is one of the first to be reinstated following a strict educational protocol and intense random testing, he is open about sharing his experiences, in his own way and in his own words.
SM: Can you take us through what happened that led to your substance abuse suspension from the sport?
RL: “Me and my wife were at dinner with Mr. Steve deSouza and his wife. We got talking and he asked if I knew of anybody who could do some spotting for Brad Coleman and Matt DiBenedetto. I asked what it paid and when he said $650, I said hell, I’ll do it. So, the next day he called and gave me the dates and I said I could do them.”
“Come Charlotte weekend, our son was going on a mission trip and they were giving golf cart rides to raise money for the trip. So, that’s what I did and darn near paid for the mission trip by working on the golf carts.”
“Sunday night I jumped on the golf cart, was heading back to go home, run up on three guys that were having a very good time. They asked for a ride so I had them jump on and they were in a campground and I brought them there. I got there, there was a cookout, and I got talking to some people and the next thing I know we’re sitting cross legged smoking a peace pipe.”
“I never gave it a second thought. I went home and that Thursday after Charlotte, Steve called and said I had to get a license to spot. I really didn’t want to buy another license but I needed a Nationwide license. I was right around the corner from the place so I went in, filled out the paperwork and peed in the cup.”
“I went that weekend and spotted for Brad (Coleman), came home on Joe Gibbs’ plane and the Coach even complimented me on helping his young kid on the spotter’s stand. The next day I got an email from Brad’s dad saying how much he appreciated the job I did and how much the kid liked me. And then later that day, I got a phone call from the doctor, saying that he had a problem with my urine and that he found traces of marijuana.”
“My heart stopped and I broke out in a sweat. And then it hit me. I was like wow, ok, I did it. Obviously if I would have known going into the test that I wouldn’t pass it, why would I have taken it? Then it was like, ok what do I have to do to fix this. I just kicked myself for two days hard. I embarrassed my family. I embarrassed myself. I’m trying to help my kids get where they’re trying to go. All I could think was you dumb ass.”
SM: What happened next?
RL: “I talked to Mike Helton about what do I have to do to get this over and done with. About a week and a half later they called and they did an assessment. I’ve never been to a shrink but that was the closest thing that I’ve ever been to a shrink. Then after the assessment, which said that I didn’t need any treatment, I had to do classes. I also had to buy a dozen kits and piss in a cup every week. After the third one, I asked if they were all clean, which they were. So, that’s what it was. I’m doing some faith-based counseling and doing some stuff through the church. I want to be a better person. I want to be smarter and find out why I went down the road and did what I did.”
“I don’t know if it was the year that I had last year or what. My wife was diagnosed with cancer, my mom’s sick with cancer, and the seat company got put in the hole by an accountant. It all added up and obviously I didn’t make the right decision. So, I just had to man up, take it on the chin, and figure out what I had to do to fix this. I did it the best way I knew how…to tell the truth.”
SM: How did you cope with the headlines and the feelings that you had during the suspension?
RL: “I just wanted to crawl in a hole. I seen the hurt that it put on my wife’s face. I mean the boys handled it half-assed decent. We brought them both in to tell them and I could see that it looked like I just punched them in the gut. Then when I did get suspended, my first two days was phone calls to all the kids, they call themselves the ‘field fillers’, and I wanted to call all the parents and apologize. That beat the hell out of me.”
“I think you realize the friends that aren’t fake. There were calls asking if I got suspended from ESPN and I knew their next call was to ESPN. Then there were those that said to call if I needed anything and then never returned my calls when I did call.”
SM: How did the suspension affect your work and your livelihood?
RL: “You know it definitely put a strain on it. My wife took it as a bigger hit as an embarrassment on the name. We’re still not as good as we were before. But then again, I think we’re going to be even better. The business after I got back, there was an inch of paper on my desk and out of that stack, there were three negative ones. Those three, I responded to them. It took me an hour to type a paragraph apologizing to them and telling them that I still wake up every day trying to keep kids safe. Then I gave them my competitor’s telephone number.”
“I don’t know how I will get my good name back. There’s not many people that walk around with halos or live in glass houses.”
SM: What do you want people to know about this experience and what it has meant to you?
RL: “That I’m working on figuring out why I took the roads that I went down and I’m more than likely not going to do that again. I ask myself why every day. That’s something that I don’t know what the answer to that is. I just have to be a better person, follow the right attitudes. Obviously something bothered me that I wanted to hide from. Hopefully, I will get all my ducks in a row and not do that again.”
SM: What does the future hold for Randy LaJoie?
RL: “I enjoy working on the TV side. Will I get some of it back, I don’t know. I had three dates until the end of the year with ESPN and Versus had already filled my position. I still think my positives outweigh my negatives when it comes to racing. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve done a lot. I still wake up every day trying to keep my company afloat. My ‘Safer Racing’ tour is one of the best things I do and I turned it into a nonprofit. Every summer, I go on tour with different groups and go to different race tracks, looking at cars and telling them how to be safe. I have a wonderful program for kids who outgrow their seats but it’s a tough business to be in.”
“My boys have seen what I’ve been through. It was my birthday last Saturday and in their birthday card they both said that we seen what you went through the past two months and you handled it well and we’re going to do that. So, if it’s going to help those ‘field fillers’ get to where they want to be, that’s a lesson learned.”