Sunday, August 10, 2014

Some perspective on Stewart's sprint car incident

As a life-long auto racing fan, any time you hear of a driver or fan's death at an auto racing event anywhere, it just makes you sick to your stomach.
Sure, fans, and of course the drivers, know there is risk involved  in what the drivers do. That's understood. But when news began to spread late Saturday night of the incident where Tony Stewart hit driver Kevin Ward Jr. resulting in Ward's death, well, that caused kind of a double sick to the stomach feeling.
First, let's be clear that prayers go out to Ward's family and friends. It's a tragedy, s plain and simple. Second, prayers go out to Stewart who, if you objectively watch the video, obviously had no intention of trying to hit Ward. Those who imply otherwise are jumping way to high to reach those conclusions.
Here's a step by step look at what  happened  at Canandaigua Speedway, a half-mile dirt track.
First, Stewart and Ward were racing for position in the race. Ward was on the high side coming through a corner and Stewart on the low side. Driving sprint cars on dirt that slide through corners is a bit of an inexact science, even to the best of drivers. So, when Stewart slid up the track and  made contact with Ward, causing him to crash into the wall,  it really was as we like to say. one of those  racing accidents. Ward had not pulled ahead of Stewart on the track. They were essentially even. It was a simple case of two cars going for one piece of real estate. And as has been the case thousands of times in races I watched, neither was giving in, and there was an accident. The wreck itself  was really nothing out of the ordinary.
But, sure, one see could why Ward would be frustrated. He was fighting for position and didn't get it. However, it's something that has  happened to thousands of  drivers over the years. The accident wasn't that big of a deal. And that's an important factor  in all of this, because if there was nothing unusual about  the wreck, then Stewart didn't have anything to be angry about. And that's an important factor, too, because Stewart's list of temper tantrums over the years is fairly long.
He's fought Jeff Gordon in the garage area, once knocked a camera out  of a photographer's hands after a race at Indianapolis, and even successfully threw a helmet at the car of NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Matt Kenseth after he felt Kenseth wrecked  him intentionally.
But this time, it's hard to see reason for Stewart to be angry while in his car.
But there was no doubt that Ward was angry. After the accident, he climbed out of his car, and marched  down the track looking for Stewart to come back around under the yellow flag, where cars are still going about 40 to 50  mph. Ward got close to the car running ahead  of Stewart and Stewart was likely as surprised as anybody to see Ward standing there. Some say Stewart gunned his engine to spin wheels and make a point to Ward, causing Stewart's right rear tire to hit Ward. It  looked  to me that Stewart was surprised and was actually trying to swerve to miss Ward. Just my opinion.
The immediate result though was tragic.
The long-term result is yet to play out. Because it was Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and owner of  a four-car team, his fame and  fortune will  play  into this as well.
While twitter went crazy when the news broke late Saturday, it was also a bit crazy before the race at the track. Because news was spreading that Tony Stewart was coming to race there. Stewart has said in the past  that once he is done driving Sprint Cup cars, he will keep driving sprint cars on the dirt. He loves  to do it and  lets face it, when he shows up almost unannounced at a local dirt track, fans love that he is there. And don't forget that Stewart isn't there to shake hands, say drivers start your engines, wish everybody well and helicopter it out of there. He's there to race. He  is and will always be  a racer at heart.
Stewart decided not to drive in the Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen Sunday afternoon being  replaced by Regan Smith.
The local police investigating did say Stewart was distraught over the incident, as anyone should be. What  happens in the next few days will shed  a lot  more light on the accident. Just how Stewart handles the attention of it will tell us a lot about him. And I expect it will be a lot more good than a lot of people want to admit right now.

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