Two-time EuroNASCAR champion and PK Carsport’s team manager Anthony Kumpen revealed his plan to return to EuroNASCAR as a driver at Circuit Zolder next month as he opens up to Autosport.be on the story that led to his 4-year long doping suspension.
Anthony Kumpen, two-time NASCAR Whelen Euro Series champion, has announced his return to the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series in the next round at Circuit Zolder, as revealed in a recent interview with Autosport.be on 17 September.
Kumpen’s planned return at Zolder will be his first appearance as a driver in four years after he was suspended for four years by the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium (RACB) due to failing a drug test during the 2018 edition of 24 Hours of Zolder. Kumpen has yet to reveal what car he will drive at Zolder, but it’s certain that it’ll be entered as part of a second PK Carsport entry.
“My suspension did indeed expire on 14 September 2022, and I have been training for quite some time to prepare for my comeback,” said Kumpen to Autosport.be’s Martijn Wouters. “In fact, my first race weekend will be the NASCAR meeting at Circuit Zolder on October 9 and 10.”
Kumpen has yet to tell the story on why he received the doping suspension over the course of the previous four years, but the 43-year old Belgian has decided to open up the story that led to his suspension to Autosport.be.
“I choose to explain the story with the goal of bringing some nuance to the story on one hand, but mostly so that when I make my comeback I only have to focus on racing,” said Kumpen on why he decided to speak up about his suspension. “I’ve already won the NASCAR European Championship twice and I know the level is extremely high. You can’t afford not to be 100 percent mentally.”
Through the exclusive interview, it was revealed that Kumpen’s heavy crash with fellow Belgian driver Marc Goossens on his final EuroNASCAR start to date – the first race of the Oval World Challenge 2018 at Tours Speedway – started the sequence of events that led to his positive drug test.
“At the NASCAR weekend in Tours, France, I crashed very hard into the wall on Saturday,” explained Kumpen to Autosport.be. “I went from 140 per hour to zero in a split second, resulting in a concussion and foot injury. The impact was so great that I had to forfeit the second race on Sunday.”
“In the weeks that followed, I noticed during workout that the effects of the crash kept reverberating. The concentration was simply not there, which sometimes led to bizarre and even dangerous situations. It was enough for me to see my doctor, who made the link with an ADHD diagnosis from my youth. He referred me to a psychotherapist, who pointed me to a publication about the potential impact of a concussion on those with ADHD symptoms.”
“The exercises he recommended had no effect, so my family doctor prescribed the ADHD medication that I used to take but had stopped taking for years. I was still taking that medication at the 2018 24 Hours of Zolder, but I’m doing so with a doctor’s prescription.”
Kumpen revealed that his participation at the 24 Hours of Zolder in 2018 – his first race since the Tours crash – wasn’t something that he had initially planned to do. Kumpen, who drove a Wolf GB08 Tornado alongside Ivan Bellarosa, Tom Boonen, Bert Longin and the late Stilo CEO Guglielmo Belotti, was only persuaded to compete due to pressure from the sponsors.
“I had already withdrawn from the 25 Hours VW Fun Cup at Spa a month earlier. The situation was no better in Zolder and initially I wouldn’t have driven either. However, we had two new sponsors and that convinced me to drive anyway,” said Kumpen to Autosport.be on his participation at Zolder.
“After the 24 Hours of Zolder is over, there is often a doping control and it was the case in 2018. When I took my medication the day after, I almost immediately thought about the doping test the day before. I contacted the RACB to inquire if I didn’t have to officially log my prescribed medication because of the doping test. They referred me to the medical service of the FIA and that was it. Suddenly, a letter came to inform me of the positive pee and the suspension.”
Kumpen did not question the fact that the amphetamine that was found in the drug test came from his post-crash ADHD medication, but after consulting with Johnny Maeschlack – one of the most experienced lawyers for sport and doping laws in Belgium – he found out that athletes of an adult age (racing drivers included) had to register a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) in advance in order to be allowed to compete whilst under medication, something that Kumpen didn’t know he had to do at the time.
“There was no question that the substance found was the result of my ADHD medication, but for athletes that medication is prohibited – even if prescribed by a doctor,” explained Kumpen. “As a teenager I was allowed to take the medication, but as an adult you suddenly have to apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption, or TUE, in advance. A TUE is an official document that allows you, as an athlete, to take medication that is normally on the list of prohibited substances for a certain period of time. Little did I know…”
“‘As an athlete you should know that legislation,’ I hear [from Maeschlack]. That’s pretty short sighted. I’m not a top athlete or a professional motor racing driver, but a recreational athlete. That is something completely different. Moreover, different regulations apply in Flanders than in Brussels and Wallonia, not to mention NASCAR on American soil. You can’t expect every amateur athlete to know those details, can you?”
“Step into the paddock at Zolder on any race weekend and ask ten drivers what a TUE is. I bet 75% have never even heard of it. That those rules apply to professional teams in cycling, I can understand. They have an extensive medical staff team, I don’t.”
Kumpen is adamant that the drugs that he had taken weren’t performance enhancing and criticizes Flanders’ National Anti-Doping Organization for viewing his amphetamine consumption as equal to the doping cases done by long-distance lorry drivers, but he admitted that it would be difficult to change the public’s perception of his doping case.
“No,” as Kumpen adamantly told Autosport.be. “Would it make a difference? I heard left and right that people thought I had taken party drugs. The opinion was formed and even if I had brought out my side of the story, I still had the perception against it.”
“Besides…,” Kumpen continued, “What’s to be gained by taking amphetamines? Stints in motorsport last an hour, sometimes double that, and you share the car with two to four drivers in a 24 Hour race.”
“By the way, nobody in motorsports seemed to assume that I had taken things to perform better in the 24 Hours. The questions and jokes always revolved around party drugs or a joint or something. NADO Flanders, the National Anti-Doping Organization that manages the anti-doping policy in Flanders, didn’t listen to that. They compared car racers with truck drivers who take Captagon to stay awake during long drives. That’s absurd, isn’t it?”
“In a 24-hour race, we drive and sleep according to a schedule. My blood still boils when I think back on it. I don’t dispute that I was wrong, I didn’t even request a counter-examination because I knew I had taken that substance. I was accused that I should have just looked at http://www.dopinglijn.be, a site I had never heard of! The verdict was four years of suspension.”
Kumpen also revealed that he nearly received an eight-year suspension when he tried to appeal the decision, having disagreed with the original suspension punishment because he was only tested positive due to an administrative error on his behalf.
“It became a procedural battle, but I didn’t want to win on procedural errors,” said Kumpen on the appeal to Autosport.be. “I appealed because my only mistake was that I had not applied for that TUE beforehand. I needed the medication and it was prescribed by a doctor. It’s not like I decided on my own to take those pills. So for me it was purely an administrative error and they couldn’t suspend me for four years – the maximum period – could they?”
“That’s what I thought… but I was wrong. The doping laws are what they are and every athlete – pro or amateur – is supposed to know and follow them. It was obviously a mistake on my part and I admitted as much. Given that I had already been suspended for several months at that point, I asked for a fine. However, I was suspended for another four years for, wait for it, willful negligence!”
“Of course, you can appeal again, but then it’s purely about procedural errors. Again, I didn’t want my suspension overturned that way but this ‘willful negligence’ wronged me greatly. Besides appealing in cassation, another option was to have a civil court rule whether the anti-doping decree had been followed correctly, but even that would not have reversed the suspension.”
“Together with my lawyer Mr. Omar Souidi, we did opt for the latter option and effectively won that case in November 2020. The Disciplinary Committee of NADO ruled that I had been negligent, but the civil court also ruled that they had been negligent in following their own procedures. Around that time, I was also able to let go of the whole situation and focus my energy on positive things.”
With the suspension still in place, Kumpen transitioned himself to the role of team owner and manager for the PK Carsport team that his father Paul had founded. Under Anthony’s management as a full-time owner, PK Carsport was able to win 2 consecutive 24 Hours of Zolder victories, a third EuroNASCAR driver’s title with Alon Day in 2020 and a Belcar title during the last three seasons and the team is on the verge of possibly winning three titles in 2022 – EuroNASCAR, Belcar, and the GT2 European Championship.
Kumpen is confident that he can be competitive and compete for the win right from the get go based on the results from a mid-season testing session that PK Carsport did at Zolder a few months back. He’s also aiming to make a start in the NASCAR Cup Series in the future, something that he hasn’t been able to do after talks with Rick Ware Racing in 2018 fell through due to his suspension.
“That is why I am opting for NASCAR again, especially since the next race is at Zolder, in front of my own fans. I am extremely happy that all my sponsors are still behind me, because even the contracts for next year have already been signed,” explained Kumpen on why he opted to make his first post-suspension appearance in EuroNASCAR.
“In addition, I would also like to start in the NASCAR Cup Series in the U.S. since I’m familiar with the road courses as an European. I’m really eager to be able to compete with competitors again. I may have been out for four years, but I haven’t sat still for four years. I’m physically sharper than ever before. It remains to be seen whether that can compensate for my age but I’m going to go all out.”
“In tests I did earlier this year in Zolder, the speed was good. I set times under the pole time from last year… That fueled the fire a little more to be honest. Am I saying that I will outshine everything and everyone? Absolutely not, but I only want to race when I still have the raw pace in me and at this point I think I can still compete for the win in Zolder!”
Disclaimer: Unless noted on the photo, all photos used in this article are courtesy of NASCAR Whelen Euro Series / Stephane Azemard / Bart Dehaese.