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Fike opens up about emotional journey to sobriety

August 21, 2012, Holly Cain, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com



Fike opens up about emotional journey to sobriety

Aaron Fike vividly remembers the phone conversation with his mother two summers ago that finally turned his life around.

The former Camping World Truck Series driver had been suspended three years before, in 2007, after getting arrested while preparing to shoot up heroin in the parking lot of an Ohio amusement park.

Three years later, in 2010, Fike and his mother weren't carefully and logically strategizing the one-time promising racer's comeback.

"Where I was, I was utterly helpless and didn't know what to do with my life, and once I turned it over to God, I've been a completely different person. I wanted to carry the message on a bigger level if I ever do come back and race."

--AARON FIKE

He was still a mess -- still deeply addicted -- and a sobbing, desperate Fike was promising his equally distraught mother that a police officer would not be knocking on her door one day with news her son had been found dead of a heroin overdose or beaten in a botched drug deal.

That day, he vowed to his mother he would finally get clean.

True to his word -- at last -- a determinedly sober and devoutly Christian doting new father, Fike has done that.

Two years clean, Fike, 29, officially completed NASCAR's Road to Recovery substance abuse rehabilitation program and was reinstated Tuesday by the sanctioning body.

Related: Fike reinstated after program completion

"This was something a few years ago that was unfathomable," Fike said. "For them to give me the opportunity to even consider reinstating me, let alone actually reinstate me, it's a huge blessing. I don't know what else to call it."

"My family and friends were telling me to not give up hope I might race one day, that I am in the best shape I've ever been in my life, that I am a good person.

"I have God with me, and I shouldn't let anything stand in my way if I want to try and see what happens."

Even with the reinstatement, Fike doesn't have any immediate plans to return to NASCAR competition. He knows the challenges of convincing team owners and potential sponsors to take a chance on him. The real triumph is not in taking the green flag on track, but in being in control of his life away from the track and making amends for the times he was not.

His off-track life now includes a full college course-load, vigorous daily CrossFit workouts and full-time work managing a Southern California alcohol and drug rehabilitation in-patient facility.

It's a far cry from the last and lasting image NASCAR fans and competitors have of Fike -- a sullen, hope-drained young man in a grainy police mug shot after his arrest in 2007 for possession of heroin and his suspension by NASCAR.

The former USAC standout and Truck Series front-runner has spent the past five years tenuously navigating between the utter despair of giving into drug and alcohol addiction and the faith and determination he could overcome it.

Still well-removed from the sport at this point, Fike said he genuinely doesn't know what the reaction will be to news of his reinstatement.

Although he closely followed NASCAR during the first two years of his suspension and has competed in a handful of USAC midget and Silver Crown races since, Fike hasn't had any real contact with anyone. No phone calls, no e-mails.

The exception is his former team owner, Red Horse Racing principal Tom DeLoach, who wrote letters to the Ohio judge on Fike's behalf in the early going. The two haven't spoken in years, but DeLoach was encouraged and hopeful about Fike's progress.

"I think people will say, 'Good.' That he cleaned up his act and got his life back in order and they will be very happy for Aaron," DeLoach said. "I think there's a very positive humanitarian side to this that you can't disregard.

"A lot of people make mistakes, but the key is, what have you done to dig out of it? It looks like Aaron has gone through the program and gotten his life back together again. Whether he ever races again or not is virtually immaterial. It's whether he got his life together. If that's together, all the rest of it can just happen."

As bad as things had gotten for Fike the summer of 2007 when he and his girlfriend were arrested as they were about to shoot up heroin in the parking lot of Kings Island amusement park, he insists the darkest days came later.

The arrest came only a week after posting a career-best fifth-place finish in a Camping World Truck Series race.

"My life really spiraled out of control after I lost my NASCAR license," Fike said. "I carried a bunch of shame and guilt around for almost two years. I had gotten down to almost 140 pounds, I'm normally 175-180 pounds."

Fike said during that time he was living the life of "any other drug addict."

"I lied, cheated and stole from family and friends, whatever I had to do to get money," he said, pausing to collect himself. "I just continued to repeat the same thing over -- from going to jail to overdosing to feeling I didn't want to live anymore. I didn't want to continue on. The futility of the life I had been living was utterly hopeless.

"Somewhere down the line in 2006 and 2007, very quickly alcohol and drugs kind of kicked my ass and took everything away from me -- took my career, my family, my friends -- took my dignity and made me want to die pretty much."

Then there was the 2010 phone call with his mother, a conversation -- and turning point -- that he better appreciates now he is a parent of a seven-month old little girl.

Fike checked himself into a treatment facility, but in a cruel twist, faced more struggles when he became dependent on the drugs prescribed to treat the heroin addiction. It was a tortuous cycle, but one he finally broke. He said his girlfriend -- the mother of his child -- also successfully underwent treatment to stop the drug use.

After completing an inpatient rehabilitation program on his own, Fike was sober for almost a full year before he contacted NASCAR about participating in the Road to Recovery program last summer.

He could have easily closed the NASCAR chapter of his life and moved on quietly.

"My family and friends were telling me to not give up hope I might race one day, that I am in the best shape I've ever been in my life, that I am a good person. I have God with me, and I shouldn't let anything stand in my way if I want to try and see what happens."

--AARON FIKE

But, he said, "I wanted to right the wrongs of my past mistakes."

John Bobo, director of NASCAR's Racing Operations and Substance Abuse Program, points to Fike's story as the ultimate example of how the sport's reinstatement program can work successfully.

At NASCAR's direction, Fike was evaluated at yet another treatment facility, his rehabilitation progress overseen by NASCAR's substance abuse program administrator Dr. David Black in preparation for reinstatement. Bobo said Fike has been and will continue to be "aggressively" drug tested, as the Road to Recovery program requires.

"I don't think there's a family in America that hasn't been touched by substance abuse, whether it's alcohol or prescription drugs," Bobo said. "I think Aaron's is a very human story and goes to show there is treatment available if people want help. It shows that there are second chances in life.

"Everyone loves a story of someone who overcomes something they are struggling with and returns to do something they love."

Since NASCAR's revamped random drug testing policy took effect in 2009, 38 crew members or drivers have been suspended and 16, including Fike, reinstated.

Fike's former team owner DeLoach -- whose current driver Timothy Peters leads the points for the Camping World Truck Series championship -- feels strongly that had the random testing been in place five years ago, Fike's situation might not have become as dire.

"We all have gotten a whole lot more sophisticated about making sure we could find this early and not have something surprise us," DeLoach said. He said although Fike has admitted he sometimes used drugs on race days, neither he nor the team ever suspected a problem.

"After the fact, there were some pieces of the puzzle that didn't fit in place, but everyone has little quirks in their personality -- you don't necessarily ascribe it to doing something improper or illegal," DeLoach said. "If there was anything at the track that would have indicated he wasn't 'all there,' we would have done something about it.

"After the fact you look back and you understand it better and kind of regret you didn't see it clearer and help him before something like that happens."

Five years later, Fike's strong faith and dedication to change have prevailed over temptation and relapse.

He prefers to talk about the lessons he's learned and focus forward instead of reliving the pain and despair. He isn't one to wear his sobriety day-count like a badge.

"I don't count the days," Fike said with a slight laugh. "I've been sober today, and all that matters is I've been sober today.

"Where I was, I was utterly helpless and didn't know what to do with my life, and once I turned it over to God, I've been a completely different person. I wanted to carry the message on a bigger level if I ever do come back and race.

"It started with me just wanting to clear up the past with NASCAR and with my car owners, a lot of the people I had hurt when I got in trouble. I really had no intention of getting back in seat of car when all this started."

With sponsorship difficult to come by in an ideal situation, Fike knows he's a long shot at landing a NASCAR ride. He's got a couple USAC races lined up later this season, "nothing serious," he said.

Would DeLoach hire Fike?

"This is one of those things we'd have to approach a step at a time," DeLoach said. "You can't say absolutely yes or absolutely no. You have to see if the guy's heart is in it again. You've got to have enough energy and passion behind it.

"You have a lot of people working around you, working a lot of extended hours getting equipment ready for you. They've got to see your head is in the game. The only way to motivate a team is for them to be convinced we go to a race track to win."

Ironically, the most significant impact of Fike's reinstatement may have little to do with actually racing again.

"I think a majority of Americans like a good comeback story," Fike said.

"My life will always revolve around helping others. I've always been a very compassionate person, and I think anyone who's gone through the pain and misery I have gone through, you have to have compassion for others going through the same pain. Everything is amazing in my life today. I'm blessed and highly favored.

"I probably have the least amount of material things I've ever had in my life, but I'm more at peace than I've been."

Related:

Fike: 'If it were not for my arrest, I would be dead'

CTS driver Fike suspended indefinitely from NASCAR

Truck Series driver Fike held on heroin charge