An Open Letter to Randy LaJoie: What the Media Hasn’t Said.

It was quite a surprise getting into the car Tuesday and turning the radio to my favorite Sirius NASCAR  show.  A very distraught Randy LaJoie was explaining that NASCAR was about to announce that they had suspended him for testing positive for marijuana.  The details are widely available, so I won’t repeat them here and, frankly, that’s not the point of this blog.  He smoked a joint while partying with a group of people at the racetrack.  It was a one-time thing, not something he does regularly but — as Dave Moody pointed out — not a real bright thing to do given NASCAR’s zero tolerance drug policy.  Plus, it’s illegal.  Randy is jumping through the NASCAR hoops necessary to get reinstated.

I have to say, though, that the admission wasn’t as much of a surprise as the media and fan reaction. It ranged from sort of funny (“@JosephPaulillo: Knew something was up when LaJoie told Coleman during the race, “clear turn 5E, except for the minatour.”) to just plain stupid, the worst of which was a ‘respected’ NASCAR writer tearing apart LaJoie’s apology.  How unfair of Randy to have taken all the fun out of kicking people when they’re down by beating everyone to the punch.

I finally reached my limite with the Sirius Speedway caller who actually said, “Don’t worry, Randy will get his life back together and he’ll be fine.”

Give me an effin’ break.  Randy doesn’t have anything to “get back together”.

When you reach the point in your life when you really start thinking about what your purpose is on this Earth (which I have recently), you run into a lot of people whom you hope justify their existence by being loving parents, working at homeless shelters and donating to food banks because it is hard to see how what they do in their day jobs makes the world a better place.  But my perspective may be skewed because just about everything I’ve seen about the incident focused on LaJoie as a ‘two-time Busch champion’.

I’m not sure where being a racecar driver comes in in terms of making the world a better place.  There are some people who have made a point of doing things beyond the track.  Over in the ALMS, driver David Brabham spends a lot of his own time and money trying to make the world a better place.   Alcohol companies can’t sponsor cars is France, so the Highcroft Patron car at Le Mans  instead featured an effort to eradicate malaria – a disease most of us in the U.S. and Europe don’t worry about since it doesn’t affect us.   Jeff Gordon, Richard Childress and others have put their own money into medical facilities.   This is in contrast to the ‘let me sign this and put it up on ebay and let other people donate money’ approach.

One of the things about being ‘on the inside’ is that you learn things about people that most fans don’t know.  Sometimes it’s not a pleasent experience (you find that a driver you really liked is an inconsiderate sexist snob), but sometimes you learn things that you just feel compelled to pass along.

Randy LaJoie is a good racecar driver, but when St. Peter looks down a list of Randy’s accomplishments as he stands at the pearly gates, there’s going to be a long list of names.  Those are the names of people whose lives Randy LaJoie has saved.

Randy doesn’t have formal engineering training, but he’s got all the skills of a scientist or engineer.  When he was driving (which he refers to as “being my own crash-test dummy”), he realized that it was really important that the driver stopped when the car stopped.  Randy’s company, The Joie of Seating, makes seats for race cars.

The Joie of Seating makes seats for NASCAR drivers.  Remember Michael McDowell’s crash at Texas?  One of Randy’s seats was part of the safety equipment that helped McDowell walk away with nothing more than a few bruises (ribs and ego).

But — and more importantly — Randy makes seats for the everyday racer.  The Saturday night men and women who can’t afford carbon fiber, but need a safe, well-fitted seat.  They also make seat for kids.  The problem with kids is that they outgrow things.  Quickly.  An entry-level seat for a racecar can cost a couple of hundred to more than a thousand bucks.  If you’re not one of those parents into mortgaging the house for your kid’s career, you’re faced with a dilema.  Do you buy the seat big so that it will last for two years and try putting some extra padding on so your daughter can’t slide around if she’s hit in her quarter midget?

If you buy a seat from Randy, he’ll trade out seats as your kid grows because he knows a seat is safe only if it fits right.  He could make more money by selling more seats, but that’s not really why he’s in business.  Randy started a not-for-profit 501(3)c foundation to promote racing safety at short tracks so that all the safety innovations developed for NASCAR’s top series can start being used at the local tracks.

I got to interview Randy for The Science of Speed video series.  We spent a whole morning in his shop asking the guys working at the shop if they could please hold off hammering for a just a few more moments and playing with the shop dog.

My favorite part of the interview with Randy was one we used to end of the video segment on safety.  He says something like (and I’m paraphrasing – you should really look at the very end of the video if you want to appreciate his passion for safety):

When I was racing, I wanted to reach Victory Lane.  Now, when one of my customers calls me on Monday and tells me that they caught on fire, rolled the car, wrecked their… butt*… off,  and they’re fine, well, that’s my Victory Lane.

Before anyone throws stones, maybe we should all think a little about what we contribute to the world.  We’ve all done stupid things (and I’ve probably done more than my fair share).  The difference is that most of us were lucky enough to not be caught.  We were allowed to make our mistakes in private.

I’m not arguing that doing good things gives you the right to do bad things, but in the great karmic balance of things, this is not the incident for which Randy La Joie will be remembered.  And as proud as I’m sure he is of his racing championships, that’s also not what he is going to be remembered for.

Along with the late Steve Peterson , Dean Sicking and his crew at the University of Nebraska, Gary Nelson, and Tom Gideon (formerly of GM Racing, now with the NASDAR R and D Center), Randy La Joie is one of the people who evangelizes for safety simply because it is the right thing to do, not because they are concerned that losing a popular driver might affect the popularity of a sport and its ability to make money.  These are folks who don’t care if you are Jimmie Johnson or a no-name nine-year old in a go kart.

Randy, no one can question your passion and dedication to racing safety.  You are one of the people who makes the world a better place – screw ups or no.  You became one of my heroes the morning I spent with you in your shop, and you still are.

Footnote:  * My favorite part of the morning was when he gave us this great soundbite and we (the crew) were trying to figure out who should ask him if he could do it again exactly the same… without the cuss word!

19 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Randy LaJoie: What the Media Hasn’t Said.”

  1. Good for you for standing up for Randy; he smoked a joint and people are acting like he’s a murderer or a rapist.

    What is this perspective and how do I stay away from it?

  2. Diandra, Since becoming a fan of yours and buying your book, I always look for your articles! This is an excellent one! I had the opportunity to shake hands with Randy at a Busch Series race once and had a short conversation with him. He is a stand up guy, a pretty good racecar driver and is totally dedicated to racing safety! Nascar needs to lighten up on isolated incidents like this one.

  3. To diandra,

    I have no clue who you are but I wanted to thank you for a great post, it’s a shame it won’t hit espn, nascar.com, jayski or any of the “mainstream” nascar media sites.

    NASCAR, ESPN, SPEED, Nationwide or Camping World owners, should take notice, this is one of your fans talking! I may or may not have corporate backing (I’ll just let you wonder on that one), but my butt will be in the stands long after the “shine” of being the top sport wears out.

    I’m just a race fan from Louisiana who had the chance to meet Randy Lajoie at the Talladega spring race in 2005 and for some reason (Randy being Randy) he took a liking to us and our Cajun cooking and we stayed in touch by phone and email.

    Later that year, Hurricanes Katrina AND Rita hit the Gulf coast. While Katrina is well documented, Rita got less attention but affected as many if not more people than Katrina. Rita carried a storm surge that literally wiped out the coast from Vermillion Bay, La. to Galveston, Tx. But Rita people just put their heads down and started rebuilding not worrying about what the Fed was going to do for us.

    Thousands of families had their homes flooded and lost EVERYTHING, this, in areas that had NEVER seen any floods. One such family was my Godmother’s. Everything, from family photos, clothes, every piece of furniture and appliance was now junk we pulled out to sit by the road waiting for pickup.

    Randy called to check and see how we had made out from the storm. I told him my immediate family was fine, but there were many others not so lucky.

    Without me knowing, Randy started getting friends of his to gather good used (no junk was allowed) furniture, clothes, & appliances. He stored everything in his shop then called me on New Year’s Day, to wish us a better year and told me to head up to Charlotte with the biggest truck and trailer I could get my hands on.

    On Jan. 2nd, I left Louisiana and drove non-stop to Charlotte. When I pulled up at Randy’s shop at 2 AM, he was outside waiting for me with a cold refreshment, a friendly smile, and 2 hours of uplifting conversation.

    He answered all my silly race fan questions and the whole while gave me all of the comforts any friend would. LOL, I still remember looking at his pair of Busch Series Championship trophies in awe. Here I was being treated by a Champion of NASCAR like I was his friend. I cooked a nice Cajun Crawfish Ettouffe (Randy’s fav) for his whole shop while they loaded my truck and trailer, ate lunch with them, then started my non-stop return trip to my Godmother’s house. We put all the stuff on the driveway and she called those who were still trying to live in the neighborhood to come down and take anything they needed.

    Since that moment, I became not only a great fan of RANDY LAJOIE, I am now glad and proud to say I AM HIS FRIEND! Not this incident nor any other will change that!

    More to NASCAR, ESPN, SPEED, Car or Truck Owner’s…. While you all are out there looking for Jeff Gordon at every small track in the country, you should be looking to be sure we have every Mark Martin on the track every week. Going through a half dozen 18 year old maybe’s, doesn’t get you close to what someone like Randy still has to offer, even with this incident on his record!!

    NASCAR should stand with Randy! He didn’t try to lie about what happened or make up some wonderland fairy tale like just about every other sports figure who has made a mistake.

    He admitted his mistake and vowed to make amends and move forward.

    NASCAR/ESPN should be out there letting everyone know that Randy Lajoie is not just someone who got suspended for failed test, but is a man who has made many important contributions to the racing industry.

    NASCAR proudly touts men like Junior Johnson and the other great pioneers of this sport, the whole time acknowledging they were law breakers. NASCAR should NOT kick Randy Lajoie to the side now! He is every bit the personality of a Junior Johnson, a Kenny Wallace, a Jimmy Spencer, all of the great PEOPLE this sport has and IT WOULD BE THEIR LOSS!

    My wife and I have been with Randy at tracks many times and we’ve never seem him disappoint any race fan. I never saw or heard where he let a race fan walk away saying or feeling “wow, what a jerk”! Don’t we wish we could say that about all drivers?

    YOU ALL should be right there with Randy through this tough time and then use his great people skills to help others through troubles they may find themselves in.

    Sorry for the length, but wanted everyone to know there is WAY MORE to Randy Lajoie than what has been out there recently.

  4. Excellent story. Randy comes from my area and has always been a stand up guy. Yes he made a mistake but he will be better from it.

  5. Brava Diandra.

    Oh the horror! Randy smoked a joint. IMO, this is lesser offense than Carl wrecking Kez on purpose causing him to flip.

    My hope is that this doesn’t affect his seat making business. It would be stupid of people not to continue buying his product. Randy is a good guy and I wish him nothing but the best.

  6. Well if he is so safety minded why did he not have the foresight to know a spotter has the drivers life in his clear mind and thinking.and with the pot he smoked his mind would be altered and may make a mistake that could cost lives.what good will his safe seat make if he makes a mistake while spotting and a driver or drivers death is because he wanted to smoke a joint..He is old enough to know better my god he is not a teenager who smokes one from peer pressure…He should be made an example of and never be allowed to spot again or have a drivers life depend on his clear or not head…

  7. like you, i have been pondering the nature of life of late and have come to this so far: the totality of one’s life is what should be examined in a case like this — the contributions, the failures, the patterns of behavior. la joie’s decision in re: smoking dope was incredibly stupid and he deserves the penalty of the suspension and the rehab drill.

    BUT for me, the totality of his life, his contributions to the safety of the sport at every level, his work to keep racers safe far outweighs that dumb choice. combine that with the way he addressed it himself, not waiting for it to reported upon by others first and i’m seeing/hearing a guy who knows he screwed up, has admitted it without excuse and is now accepting the consequences of his actions.

    i want to see la joie back in the sport as soon as possible and i wish him all the best as he goes through the process to make that happen.

  8. Way to go, girl. I’m sick of all the holier than thou jerk’s that get boozed up and yell at people who smoke-tobacco or pot. I’d rather be around a mellow smoker than a drunk anytime. By the way, i’m neither a teetottaler,nor a smoker.

  9. KathyJ; Just to be clear, he wasn’t spotting in Charlotte, where the offense occurred. Knowing Randy, even casually, I am positive he wouldn’t do anything that might impair his conduct on the job. Yes, he’s old enough to know better, but I have to say that I personally am darn happy that I don’t have to life my life in the public eye. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and when I look back at things I did when I was, say, Kyle Busch’s age, I can only look to the heavens and thank God that my stupidity didn’t injure anyone — or myself.
    While there are studies that show a measurable change in brain function with chronic marijuana smoking (not unlike the change in brain function that occurs with chronic drinking), a one-time use of marijuana or drinking a week before a race isn’t going to make you a hazard. I’m much more worried when I’m at a party the night before a race and I see a driver imbibing because 24 hours isn’t enough to totally clear the effects of alcohol from your body.

  10. Hats off to you for an excellent article and for standing up for Randy. It may have been a stupid mistake but we all make them. Is NASCAR and ESPN’s powers that be perfect??? I bet we could find some stuff on some of them… maybe even drug testing… Do they take them also?

  11. If you folks really knew what went on behind the scenes with drivers, crew, TV folks, & officials, u’d spend so much time on your soapbox that you would have time for anything else.

    Alcohol & Tobacco are just as addictive and destructive as Pot but no one condemns Kurt Busch or Kasey Kahne for using them as a sponsor!

    No one ever started a war on Pot.

    Relax.

  12. In my opinion this world could use more men like Randy.
    We went to him over a year ago to see if there was any way he could help us with a seat for our special needs daughter and he did. He did not charge us a dime and gave us her seat.
    So what if he smoked pot. He did not kill anybody. And I really don’t care if he did. He is a Dog gone good man and I will always think that and I know that!
    I also know that he has had a rough year and everybody needs to look at their own back yard before they start judging others.

  13. The simple fact that LaJoi swaps out the seats for the young drivers without charge says everything.

    A note of contention about a statement in a prior post; “Alcohol & Tobacco are just as addictive and destructive as Pot but no one condemns Kurt Busch or Kasey Kahne for using them as a sponsor!”

    Marijuana is not a physically addictive substance as nicotine and to some extent, alcohol.

  14. diandra

    Thank you for the insight.

    Everyone makes mistakes, its what you do after the mistake is made that is the true test. If history is any lesson regarding Randy then he will come out this a beeter person for himself and the racing community. Has any one heard how Randy is doing?

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