There are many talented young drivers that never get the chance to race in any of the top NASCAR series. For Shane Hmiel, the opportunity was always there since his father; Steve Hmiel was well known and highly respected at the highest level of the sport. His association with DEI had given him the connections and the resources to assist his son.
In many cases, when the child seems to have a parent who is able to give them an advantage, the child may not understand the value of this gift. Perhaps those who have no connections, no one to open those doors for them, have a greater respect and appreciation for the struggles that you overcome to make a name for yourself.
Shane stepped into the sport without being required to pay his own dues. No one questioned his talent so there was never a question about his deserving the opportunity. Just because the road may have been paved for him, it didn‘t mean that he wasn‘t as strong and determined a competitor as those who made it without a well known father.
Between 2002 and 2006 Shane Hmiel had over 100 starts. After winning Rookie of the Year in the Goody’s Dash series in 2001, he was expected to climb up through the ranks. In 2002 and 2003, driving in the Busch Series, he ran well and had his best finish in August 2003. Starting on the pole at Indianapolis, he lead the most laps and finished 4th.
At this point, it looked as if Shane was on his way to a successful career. Just one month after his best finish to date, he was suspended for failing a drug test. Drug testing was something new to NASCAR. The sport had depended on the drivers policing themselves. There was an understanding that an impaired driver put everyone on the track at risk. With a new generation of drivers and some questions beginning to circulate around the garage, NASCAR began to see the need for a policy and random drug testing of drivers and crew members became an accepted practice.
Being a sport that has always shown its support for those who need a helping hand, there was a program put into place that allowed a suspended driver to go through treatment in hopes of being reinstated. Shane Hmiel stepped up and did what was required of him and in 2004 NASCAR decided to give him a 2nd chance.
You would hope that the story would only get better from here. Sadly, that was not the case. Although Shane took to the track with the same drive and determination that had first given him success, his failure and perhaps the failure of the organization of NASCAR was in not realizing that there was a much bigger and deeper issue. Shane Hmiel was a young man with an undiagnosed illness. As so often happens when you have a person who is sick inside, they self-medicate in hopes of feeling normal.
During the 2004 and 2005 seasons, Shane had many ups and downs. He was befriended by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the two appeared in an ad campaign for sponsor WinFuel multivitamins. While driving in the Busch Series in 2005, he got into a heated argument with Dale Jarrett and was captured on camera giving Dale Jarrett the finger. This brought a large fine and cost him 25 points. Shortly after this incident, Shane was again suspended after a 2nd failed drug test. At this point, many in NASCAR came to realize that there more going on than just a young driver who liked to party. Shane Hmiel needed some serious help. It no longer mattered that he had talent or that his father was so well loved and respected in the sport, something had to be done. How many chances can you give before someone is injured or even killed by a driver who is drowning in troubled waters?