CINCINNATI - NASCAR driver Aaron Fike understands where he was headed when he was arrested while shooting up heroin in an amusement park parking lot this summer.
'After four months of intense rehabilitation, I know that if it were not for my arrest, I would be dead,' he said. 'At one point during my addiction, I stopped breathing and nearly died. Sooner or later, my luck would have run out.'
Fike's remarks came in a rehab plan he wrote for a Warren County (Ohio) judge. The judge accepted Fike's proposal to avoid jail by going to schools and racetracks to deliver an anti-drug message. Fike may find it harder to persuade NASCAR to let him race again.
Fike was eighth in the points standings and in the running for Craftsman Truck Series rookie of the year when he was arrested with his fiancee in the Kings Island parking lot outside Cincinnati in July. Security officers observed what looked like suspicious activity in Fike's sport utility vehicle.
Mason police found bloody napkins, syringes, a spoon and black tar heroin in the SUV. Fike and Cassandra Davidson were charged with possession of heroin, which is a felony, and possession of drug paraphernalia, a misdemeanor.
NASCAR suspended Fike indefinitely and Red Horse Racing replaced him in the No. 1 Toyota Tundra with veteran driver David Green.
'One day, I was a NASCAR race car driver, with people asking me for my autograph, and the next day I was in handcuffs, lying on the floor of a jail cell, going through the absolute agony of heroin withdrawal,' Fike wrote in the proposal the judge accepted Nov. 6.
Fike told The Associated Press on Tuesday he began taking prescription painkillers about six years ago because of back injuries and a broken right wrist and gradually moved up to oxycodone, commonly known under the brand name OxyContin.
While 'hanging around the wrong environment,' Fike said he began using heroin last December.
'I was sporadic in my use. It wasn't every day,' the 25-year-old driver said. 'I made sure I was clean when I went to the track. But it was definitely consuming my life.'
Fike spent four days in jail following his arrest then entered drug treatment. He said he has beaten his addiction.
'I'm just grateful to be sober and to be alive,' he said in an interview.
Davidson was granted treatment rather than conviction and has gone through extensive rehab.
'She's doing great,' Fike said.
Facing a possible one-year jail sentence if convicted of the felony, Fike and his lawyer, Charlie Rittgers, put together a proposal in which Fike promised to speak and pass out literature at schools, racetracks and other places. The county prosecutor agreed to reduce the felony charge to a misdemeanor, and Fike was sentenced to two years' probation.
'From time to time there is an opportunity - and this was one of them - to get the message out to young people about the dangers of drugs,' prosecutor Rachel Hutzel said. 'I thought Aaron Fike was one of those people who could get the message out in a far more effective way than most of us ever could.'
Fike has returned to Illinois, where he grew up, and last week filed incorporation papers for his nonprofit 'Racing Against Drugs.'
'It will be dedicated to helping others, particularly young people, to avoid the terrible mistake I have made,' Fike told the judge in his proposal.
Fike plans to set up an information tent at each NASCAR track, give motivational speeches on staying clean, make presentations at schools and mention the anti-drug campaign in every interview. He expects to have a Web site running next month.
Until the racing suspension is lifted, Fike will be barred from tracks. He hopes NASCAR will give him a temporary license that will lead to full reinstatement.
'I've been trying to do the right thing in every way for the past five months,' Fike told the AP. 'My car owner has been very supportive of me.'
Red Horse spokeswoman Jamie Maynard declined to comment on the possibility of Fike returning to the team until he is reinstated by NASCAR.
'All that's speculation at this point,' Maynard said. 'Aaron needs to take care of his legal issues.'
NASCAR has indicated it will go slowly in recertifying Fike.
'It's possible, but he's got some work to do before we get there,' NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. 'After he's completed the legal process, he will have to undergo an evaluation by our substance abuse experts and follow a prescribed program that they would set for him.'
Poston said NASCAR has no timetable other than 'when we're confident he's ready to return.' Fike said he'll do whatever it takes.
'I feel great,' he said. 'I'm ready to conquer the world right now.'