Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Ephedra’s Ills

In our never ending quest to look younger, feel better, have a slimmer waist and better hair, exercise has been tabbed as one of the essential ingredients to happiness. At least that’s what the studies say and that’s what the media has bought into. Despite Oprah’s focus on feeling good about yourself, even if you’re a “plus” size, thin is in.

For guys, it wouldn’t be exactly thin, but ripped might be a better word. Gyms are full, self-help magazines are everywhere, and sweat is a fashionable scent. Working out hard is also fashionable, and pushing to the limits is where everybody seems to be going. “Can’t I get there without all of this work?” is the question many people are asking. And American ingenuity is answering yes. “Just take this pill, and you’ll be on your way,” is what the supplement industry has tried to say for years. Supplements that raise your metabolism at rest and let you work out harder in the gym are all the rage. Ephedrine in it’s over-the-counter form Ephedra, has been the main supplement of choice for weight loss and “super” workouts.

I believe in the theory that there are two kinds of bodies in this world: those who feel better in motion and those who feel better at rest. I like to be in motion and, like anybody else, have looked for an edge, even a shortcut in the past. Looking for that edge, I talked with a supplement representative about how to get “leaner.” They immediately pointed me to a product that had multiple pills of varying colors and said, “these will give you energy, super-size your workouts and lean you out.” The box was well marked, had official looking descriptive words and charts on it outlining what was contained inside. I took it, and immediately knew something was up. I couldn’t sleep, I was agitated, my heart was racing and I couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than a couple of seconds. It made me feel weird, so I went back to the salesman who said, “Oh, just take half of this brown pill and you’ll be fine.” “What’s in there,?” I asked. “Just some Ephedra, small amounts that will keep you ‘juiced,’ your body will get used to it,” was the blase response. So I took half the pill, felt the same, and went to work investigating.

Ephedrine has been a popular product in Asia for centuries, a derivative of a root that’s been chewed, cooked, boiled and served in just about every form. It’s promise is anything from more masculinity to cures for sickness. Sounds like a drug that we should know more about. But it’s not a drug, it’s a supplement. If it was a drug, it would be regulated, and the amounts doled out would be regulated. As a supplement though, it doesn’t come under any jurisdiction and therefore is a wild card when it comes to its use.

Professional athletes are looking for an edge all the time, so their use of performance enhancing products is a regular happening. Most teams even have a deal with one of the supplement companies to supply product. In the past year, two high profile deaths in pro sports, Korey Stringer and Steve Belcher, have been linked to supplement products containing Ephedra. Numerous other college, high school and amateur athletes have suffered serious injury and even death without the fanfare associated with the coverage on the pro scene. The NFL and the NCAA have banned Ephedra, and baseball is considering it, (and they don’t ban anything.)

Ephedra is bad stuff.

When you take it, you don’t know how much is in that little pill. Is it a lot? Is it enough? The combination of Ephedra and exercise at the highest level is deadly. (The mind set, of course, is that if Ephedra is good and exercise is good, then combining the two would be better.) You can walk into any convenience store and buy and Ephedra based product hanging next to the register with the jerky and the laser pointers. Perhaps if regulated, Ephedra could be helpful to some people who’s bodies can handle it, and they’d know just what they’re getting. But that’s not going to happen. Hopefully, we’ll have enough educated decision-making that Ephedra makers and distributors won’t have anybody to sell to. It’s bad news. Don’t take it.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Not Ready for Prime Time NASCAR

Of course NASCAR should have run the Daytona 500, 500 miles, that part is indisputable. If it’s the biggest race of the year, it needs to be afforded that kind of attention to detail. But again, NASCAR is a growing organization, still uncomfortable in the glare of the “big sport” spotlight.

The Monday before the 500, Channel 4 meteorologist Brad Nitz said on our half-hour special from Daytona, “it’s going to rain on Sunday, but when it comes in is the question. They’ll get most of the race in.” That was seven days before the event, and as Sunday drew closer, it was obvious that rain was going to play a role in the 500. So many new fans have come to the sport that the expectations might have been different. But long-time NASCAR fans knew the rules. If rain is going to be a factor, they can’t stop the race and start it again tomorrow after they reach the halfway point. Once they got to 100 laps, the teams, drivers and informed fans knew that each pass and each pit stop could determine their final standing in the race. That’s why Michael Waltrip’s pass with Jr.’s help, even though he was two laps down, was so crucial: and everybody knew it.

There was a large, uninformed cry after the race was called that NASCAR couldn’t do that. Actually, NASCAR can do anything they want. They run all of the events and make the rules, and in this case, they stuck to them. The problem is, they had a chance to get it right and for some reason, couldn’t figure it out. Start the race early. I know they started somewhat early, but they knew the rain was coming and could have started at noon. NASCAR doesn’t like to cut into church time on Sunday, so noon is about the earliest starting time. Still, they had the chance to move it up, tell Fox they could televise it live, or join it in progress, let the fans in early, and get 500 miles finished. NASCAR fans don’t care what time the race is! You let them know, and they’ll be there. If it’s early, it doesn’t matter, because most of them are already there anyway! I’m glad NASCAR didn’t change rules on the fly, but as they take these baby steps into the psyche of the casual sports fan, sometimes, they’ll need a better plan.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Art of Daytona

Opening testing to the news media and the public in January gives NASCAR a head start on publicity for the new season, but it really kicks off ten days before the Daytona 500, a 10-day “Speedweek.” The drivers gather on Thursday for the Bud Shootout draw, a goosed up media event that determines the starting grid for that weekend’s race. They used to run this race on Sunday afternoon when it was called the Busch Clash, but now it’s at night, better to take advantage of the higher television viewing, and give Fox a chance to figure out how they’re going to cover the big race. The Thursday event is also a sort of “media day” for the 500, with the drivers consenting to interviews after the draw. It’s a far cry from years past when drivers chased down the media in the garage area, seeking publicity for their sponsors and owners. Now, Thursday is the time to get the questions in, because the top guys disappear virtually until race day.

You can feel things get revved up at the track. The haulers arrive, the sound changes as more cares are cranked up, tested, and get on the track. The numbers increase, whether it’s fans, media, sponsors or NASCAR officials. The place is buzzing by Saturday of the Bud Shootout, campers have arrived, tents are pitched and the beer is flowing. I’ve covered NASCAR for 25 years, but the last ten years have seen the sport explode. The hard-core fan has always been there, setting their calendar around the Daytona 500. Vacations are planned, money is saved, and hopefully, designated drivers are assigned. International Speedway Corporation owns and runs the track in Daytona (as well as several others) and allows people in and out of the track based on the events scheduled. You can buy a day pass, a multi-day for the infield, or in some cases, a weekend pass to experience the race environment with about 100,000 of your closest friends. If they’re not when you get there, they will be by the time you leave. The sight of the infield as you emerge from the tunnel beginning on Thursday of race week is at first stunning, and in part mystifying. Where’d all these people come from and what are they doing here? Jaws drop as the tube tops start to come off, the flags flap in the breeze and the pile of beer cans turns into first a hill, then a mountain. There are some fans that make artwork out of their discarded cans, a testament to their stamina and creativity.

I was standing in the parking lot once, surveying the line of vehicles preparing for entry to the infield through the tunnel. They weren’t opening the gates for another eight hours, but the cars and trucks were already lined up. “Hey, Sam,” one of the drivers called out. “Check this thing out,” he shouted as a follow up. His pickup was outfitted with a welded ironwork platform on the back with the bed full of beer. “Twenty-two cases,” he said with pride. “But we’ll have to restock in a few days.” “That thing’s too tall,” I naively said, noting the height restriction to pass through Daytona’s tunnel. “Naw, seben, leben, tree-quarter,” was the immediate reply. It took a few times of hearing that phrase repeated to translate it to seven feet, eleven and three-quarter inches. “The man says ‘too tall’ I tell him, ‘put a stick on it’,” my new friend’s way of inviting a measurement. Anything over eight feet has to wait for the gate to open to cross over the track. That’s wasted infield time, and nobody wants that. “I still think it’s too tall,” I said after surveying the height. The driver leaned toward me, glanced over both shoulders and whispered, “We lit the are out the tares,” and chuckled at the thought. I laughed as well, and gladly accepted the offer of an adult beverage. I’ll drink with anybody with that kind of ingenuity.