He talked about the challenges he’s currently facing and what his life has recently been like. The following is Part 1 of a two-part interview which concludes tomorrow.
Bob Dillner: Describe the event and the emotions, when NASCAR informed you in Daytona.
A.J. Allmendinger: A lot of confusion because, at that point, I went to my knees. I wasn’t going to be in a race car in a couple of hours, and everything else that was going to follow after that.
Dillner: That night, where did you go? What did you do? What were you thinking?
Allmendinger: I drove home. After I talked to the race team, they thought it was the best idea for me to get home. So, I drove home from there from Daytona back to Charlotte. A lot of emotions driving back, a lot of crying, then a lot of, ‘what am I going to do next?’ Just trying to figure out what was happening… where everything was going, just, lost at that point.
Dillner: From that point until now, what has this all been like for you?
Allmendinger: For the first few weeks it was basically a step-by-step process. I’m just trying to figure out what it was. I was having everything tested that I had ever taken; work out supplements, Advil PM, Nyquil. At that point, all I knew it was an amphetamine. I’ll be honest, I’m naÃ¯ve to drugs… I don’t even know what that was. Then obviously, after the ‘B’ sample, then figuring out what it was, and retracing my steps to figure out how it got there. Then talking to Mr. Penske about what was going to happen and, obviously, being released from the race team. After that, it was just about soul searching. Figuring out, up until this week, I wasn’t even ready to talk.
Dillner: What was the moment like when you said, ‘Wait a second, maybe it was that?’
Allmendinger: I’ve never done drugs. When I think of drugs, I think of hardcore drugs. That’s never been a want, never been near it, never will be near it. I don’t surround myself with people that do that stuff. So, it was just really trying to figure out what it was, and retrace it back to that night. To know, in one way, I was told the wrong thing to what it was, and in another way, it was my fault for making a huge, bad judgment, on my part. One pill that adults and children take as a prescription is what’s gotten me to this place.
Dillner: When you were given that pill, did you ever question, really, I wonder exactly what this is?
Allmendinger: I should have. I know people are going to sit here and watch and go, ‘God, how stupid can you be as an athlete, to put something that you don’t have in your own hands, and take that?’ But at that point, I was just really tired. He said it was a workout supplement for energy, which I’ve taken in the past. It was just something that I really should have thought a lot more about, but I didn’t. I just took it, and that was it.
Dillner: Adderall. Would you even know that that was a banned substance by NASCAR?
Allmendinger: No, and that’s the sad thing, is that you could have told me that night that, ‘Hey, this is Adderall.’ I wouldn’t have known what that is. That’s how naÃ¯ve I am to drugs just because I’ve never been around them. I’ve never taken stuff like that.
Dillner: When we spoke in Kentucky before the race, we talked about stress. What was that stress like?
Allmendinger: Well, I mean, I came into this year, driving for Roger Penske has been my dream come true. That was the guy that, when I was racing go-karts, was the pinnacle of open-wheel racing. That’s who I wanted to drive for, and I was getting that opportunity. And I was so excited. But at the same point, the year wasn’t going the way I had planned – by far. So because of that I was stressed, putting so much pressure on myself to go out there and perform.
Dillner: You said you couldn’t sleep. What would you lie awake and be thinking about?
Allmendinger: There are a thousand things running through my head. Racing, life in general, happiness, and things felt like they were spinning out of control, just not being happy in general, at home, any of it. It wasn’t one thing, but it was a thousand things that kept me awake at night.
Dillner: You reached out to Jeff Gordon and talked to him. What was that conversation like? What did he tell you?
Allmendinger: It’s personal stuff that he told me about his life, and stuff that I told him about mine. Honestly, I probably should have asked for advice sooner in my career because… especially guys like Jeff and Tony (Stewart), Jimmie (Johnson), those types of guys. All of them, this sport is so great about the drivers that are at the top level, but will be willing to help you out. Talk to you. I was always afraid to ask them because I didn’t want to seem weak. As I talked to them, it’s not about being weak, it’s about growing up, and we all deal with things as we grow up, especially in a sport as tough as this sport. It’s so tough, every week, it’s part of this sport. Things happen and not be emotional about it.