It makes me sad that a tragedy brought a sport I enjoy and in which my family has participated for many, many years to national attention. Mainly because what you see in the media about the Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward, Jr., incident is so ignorant and uninformed that it would be laughable if it wasn’t so painful to watch, read, and listen to. Add the idiocy of internet “experts” to this (“I read about it on Wikipedia, so I’m now an expert!”), and you’ve got a special kind of stupid happening.
The death of Kevin Ward, Jr., last week at a sprint car race in Canandaigua, NY, is terribly sad, but the sad fact is that the kid was the principal agent of his own demise. Maybe not because he got out of his race car — drivers do that all the time — but because instead of leaving his vehicle and moving to a safe area outside the field of racing, he deliberately ran onto a hot track and into oncoming traffic. You just don’t do that. No, I won’t post the video. It’s terrible to watch.
The idea that Tony Stewart ran him down like a dog in the road, or aimed his race car at him, or even that he was going to spray dirt on him to show him what a tough guy he is, is so beyond ignorant that you should immediately dismiss anyone who posts this theory.
But-but-but…everyone knows Tony Stewart is a hothead who once threw his helmet at another race car! Maybe so. It’s documented that Stewart has a temper. In the video of this incident, you do see what appears to be some road rage happening, but hint, hint: The one who is road-raging isn’t Tony Stewart. On the prior lap, it appears Ward tried to squeeze past Stewart on the outside and got pinched against the wall and wrecked. Happens all the time at sprint car races. Yellow flag thrown, racers decelerate to caution speeds. This time, Ward got out of his car and went looking for Stewart (I assume this is so — you can see him dodging other cars and pointing very specifically). Accident happened.
I’m not even a Tony Stewart fan. But the witch hunt mentality by the uninformed and the stupid is ridiculous, and it’s pissing me off.
Had Ward been struck by any of the other cars whizzing by that narrowly avoided hitting him, I’m betting this wouldn’t have gone past the local news station, and only the sprint car community would be talking about this and mourning this young man’s death. And they would be calling it what it was — an accident. But because it was Stewart, who nudged him into the wall, the media immediately had to turn this into a fight, a confrontation, some sort of testosterone battle.
I wonder if it hadn’t been Stewart that put the squeeze on Ward’s car if he would have run into the track at all?
I know there are probably some chuckleheads who are already puffing up like toads and getting ready to say, “Who is this New York City fashion person to have an opinion about this?” Am I an expert on this subject? BY NO MEANS. But believe it or not, I actually kind of know a little of what I’m talking about when it comes to sprint car racing. My oldest brother has raced a sprint car in western Pennsylvania for decades, and my other two brothers both wrenched for him and for other drivers (in PA and CA). So I’ve been to my fair share of sprint car races, probably more than anyone reading this page.
Here’s my brother running hot laps at Sharon Speedway many moons ago:
Here are my other brothers, working on a race team (I believe this is the McMahans) in California:
For my birthday last year, I didn’t want to go to Paris, or Hawaii, or Niagara Falls. I wanted to go to the races in the middle of Bumfuck, Pennsylvania. Here is a picture of me with World of Outlaws driver Paul McMahan in the pits at Williams Grove last October:
Net-net: Race tracks are inherently dangerous places. Walking into the path of oncoming cars, even ones running under caution (which is 40-50mph), is suicidal.
This is actually a pretty good primer about how sprint cars work — super-basic but fine for people who don’t know anything about them. If you’re going to have an opinion about this, at least be somewhat informed.
And for God’s sake, don’t get your information about sprint car racing from Charlie Rose, NPR, or the New York Times.
One last note, for all you internet experts out there — these are not NASCAR events. People seem to be getting confused by the NASCAR-Sprint Cup moniker, which has nothing at all to do with sprint car racing.
(PS – if you’ve got a track nearby, you should go. It’s fun. Loud and dusty, but if you love the smell of methanol, dirt, and Schaefer beersweat, you’ll probably like it.)