Drugs

18/09/2002
FEATURE BY MIKE LAWRENCE

Tomas Enge is to be hauled up before the FIA for having 'illegal substances' in his urine sample. So far as I can recall, he is the first driver to be hauled up for 'illegal substances'. 'Illegal substances' includes alcohol and it is just as well that the authorities were not as Politically Correct in days gone by.

When Giovanni Bracco won the 1952 Mille Miglia for Ferrari, and defeated the Mercedes-Benz team, the main function of his co-driver was to light cigarettes and pass the brandy. Apparently, Bracco got through 160 ciggies and even a dedicated smoker like me cannot understand how he did that. The amount of brandy was not recorded, but one understands that it was considerable.

When Louis Chiron first drove in the Carrera Panamericana, he was appalled to discover that it was a 'dry' race and he was not allowed to carry his customary flask of Champagne.

One can think of many drivers who performed great feats while in a state which would see them fail a breathalyser test.

Alcohol has long been a part of motor racing culture, though not often at the top level in recent years. James Hunt became a drunk, though he cleaned his act before he died. James would get through a couple of bottles of wine when he was commentating with Murray Walker. Murray, the complete professional, and the nicest man on the planet, was upset by this and when he said, "James is outside the commentary box getting a breath of fresh air", what he really meant was "James is sucking on a spliff."

James eventually cleaned up his act and took up running. One cannot help but wonder, though, whether the years of abuse contributed to his death through a heart attack.

Mike Hawthorn, the first British World Champion, was known for his 'on' days and his 'off' days. Much depended on the size of Mike's hangover.

The saddest story was that of Peter Walker, a works driver for BRM and Jaguar who won Le Mans in 1951 co-driving with Peter Whitehead. Walker liked a drink and became a homeless alcoholic. Though he had been a wealthy farmer, he eventually was found to be sleeping in shop doorways in London. Eventually his family persuaded him to take treatment in a clinic where he fell in love with one of the nurses. They married and Peter died 18 months later.

My biography of Colin Chapman comes out in the next few days and, in it, I reveal that Chapman had a drug habit. For at least twenty years he was on 'uppers' (amphetamines) and 'downers' (barbiturates). When he started, the world was innocent about drugs and Colin's were prescribed by his physician.

Chapman made no secret of his uppers and downers and his colleagues sympathised with him because he was always flying round the world going through many time zones. Still, Colin would have failed a modern drug test, though the FIA do nothing about designers.

It is fairly well-known that Gordon Murray has enjoyed the odd spliff. Apparently, when Gordon designed the Brabham BT55, where the BMW engine was laid on its side to create a low rear deck, Bernie (may he pass every test) took one look at it and said: "What were you on when you thought of that?"

Juan-Manual Fangio used to take special pills. There is a story that someone once obtained one and had it analysed. The chemists could not, according to the story, identify a single ingredient of Fangio's special pills. He gave one to Stirling Moss before the 1955 Mille Miglia and Stirling won at a speed which will last as a record until the crack of doom. Under the influence of Fangio's pill, Stirling attended the prize ceremony and then drove through Northern Italy and across the whole of France, caught a ferry and then snatched sleep in England.

I do not think that Fangio and Moss have often been described as 'drug crazed'. A lot of drivers used stimulants such as Benzine and, sometimes, they were drivers with uneven careers. You want me to name names, try Masten Gregory and the Rodriguez brothers - all are dead so I can tell tales out of school.

I was once in the company of a Formula One team owner and the question of drugs came up. He asked me how I felt about marijuana and I said, "I haven't had any skag since my son left home." Formula One team owner reached down and showed me a polythene bag full of leaves. Do you know, he never asked me to join him in a spliff? That's tight-wad Formula One team owners for you.

I should say that the team owner is no longer involved in Formula One.

When I arrived for the first day of practice for the 1979 British Grand Prix, two team owners were absent. They were attending the wedding of a friend who was in prison serving time for drug dealing. What suspicions did that raise? You bet they did. Neither team owner is currently in Formula One.

A number of teams have been involved in drug smuggling and though there have been rumours about some F1 teams, none of which are currently active, the rumours ceased around 1980. Some F1 teams now employ security consultants to ensure that their transporters are not used for nefarious purposes.

The people who have been arrested have tended to have been in saloon and GT racing - professional teams but not of the top drawer. A lot of funny powder can be stowed away in a suitably modified air bottle or in a spare engine with the insides removed.

The only F1 driver that I know has been imprisoned for drug dealing is Ian Burgess who got ten years for heroin dealing. Burgess had occasional works drives for Cooper, but mainly he was on the fringes with most of his drives being for private owners. According to one story, he was in an Open Prison and one day he walked out, his Czech girlfriend was waiting in a car, and he was in Prague within hours. I believe that Burgess's story is that he was working for MI5.

At least eight drivers in the American IMSA GT Championship went to prison for drug dealing in the 1980s. They included the three Whittington brothers, two of whom won Le Mans in 1979, and Randy Lanier the Indianapolis Rookie of the Year in 1985. Lanier is serving life without the possibility of parole, but that was for having a former partner murdered.

Motor racing is fuelled by money and crime has always been one way to finance racing. Robin Herd, formerly the owner of March Engineering told me, "It's a funny thing, but when you get criminals in motor racing, they tend to play by the rules. Within the sport they are absolutely straight as though they are trying to do something right in their lives."

I do not know what Tomas Enge is accused of taking, the FIA has not said, but I cannot think of a single drug which will enhance the performance of a racing driver. Alcohol won't, though the user may think that it does.

Steroids could be used to build upper body muscle, essential when fighting the g-forces generated by a modern F1 car. Having said that, I have not even heard the whiff of a rumour of anyone doing it. Racing drivers are a randy bunch and steroids can cause impotence. These two facts are incompatible, and drivers prefer to shag.

Enge may well have taken a medication which, unknown to him, contained a proscribed substance. This is a constant problem. Up to the 1960s, there was a cough medicine sold without prescription called Dr. Collis Browne's Expectorate, which contained morphine. Dopeheads soon developed heavy coughs, until the product was withdrawn.

The most popular seed for pet birds sold in Britain, Trill, used to contain fertile marijuana seeds. If you threw a packet of Trill on your garden you could have been arrested if the seed took root. The company marketing Trill then took to radiating all the seeds, but until that was done perfectly innocent old ladies with a budgerigar or canary could have ended up behind bars or on probation.

Of course, old ladies who enjoyed a spliff, could also plead innocence and were likely to be believed. My former mother-in-law was involved in the music business (she is the 'mother' in Paul Simon's 'Mother and Child Reunion') and she was prescribed cannabis tincture in a secret government experiment in the late 1960s.

The trick was that you put an ordinary cigarette into the tincture (cannabis suspended in alcohol, a medicine favoured by Queen Victoria to ease her period pains) and then you shook it until the alcohol evaporated. When the cigarette was dry, it was a bright turquoise but it smoked in a different way.

How do I know? I've done it.

Last year I was handed a spliff in America, I took two draws and coughed for the next ten minutes. I'm out of practice. Jeez, it was strong stuff. After that I stuck to Jack Daniel's fine product.

Tomas Enge has been accused of having illegal substances in his urine sample. I am certain that Tomas has a perfectly reasonable explanation, but speaking only for myself, I don't think that the FIA should be involved in this area at all. It is an intrusion upon people's private lives which I find unacceptable.

Athletes have been using drugs for years and, in some cases, governments have appointed chemists to disguise the fact. The Commies were ace at that. They didn't just boost performance, they also restricted growth so there were female gymnasts whose development was retarded - there were women with the bodies of girls.

Athletes would have their blood pumped out after spending time at low altitude, where it became oxygen-rich. The blood would be stored and then pumped back in when they competed at high altitude. Is that gross or is that gross?

The worst accusation I have heard against a racing driver is that he has taken a stiff drink before a race. Excuse me, but when I go into any supermarket, I am confronted by aisle upon aisle of alcohol. Alcohol is legal in most countries.

The Olympics, where the idea, supposedly, is not to win, but to take part, has produced freaks. Motor racing has not produced freaks. As soon as a sex test was introduced at the Olympics a lot of Soviet 'women' field athletes retired. Motor racing has never had freaks like that.

I was brought up in the belief that the Tour de France cycle race was perhaps the greatest test of human endurance ever devised. That belief went to the wall when the British rider, Tommy Simpson, died while leading the race in the late 1960s and he was found to have been doped up to the eyeballs. Nobody believes that Simpson was the first to be on drugs, he was merely the first to hit the headlines.

International bicycle racing is still riddled with drug-taking and the governing body has done very little. Lance Armstrong, one of the greatest riders ever, spends most of his time denying that he is a dopehead simply because the governing body is so ineffective. Lance recovered from cancer and has won the Tour de France four years on the trot, he is one of the world's greatest sportsmen, yet he has to waste time denying that he is on drugs, which is a story spread by lesser men.

Motor racing does not need to become involved in dope testing because any drug taking in motor racing is recreational. It cannot affect performance in a positive way. Unlike other sports, there is no known drug which can affect performance.

Since the FIA does not need to be involved in dope testing, it shouldn't be done. There is no need for it. The FIA is simply following the herd. The FIA is being silly. The FIA's job is to administer the sport, not to intrude on people's lives.

Excuse me while I draw on a cigarette and take a swig from a chilled can of Stella Artois. Sorry, Max, but what I do in the privacy of my home is my affair.

Mike Lawrence

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Published: 18/09/2002
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