So by now you've heard how three time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart was involved in a on track incident Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York State last night.
What we know now is that Stewart the part of owner of Stewart-Haas racing (which is the team consisting of Kevin Harvick, Danica Patrick & Kurt Busch), had contact with local sprint car racer Kevin Ward Jr, and Ward went into the wall and then he exited his crashed car and walked down the track and pointed out Stewart. It appears (and let me emphasis "appears"), that Stewart accelerated past Ward but if you know this little sprint cars, they drive more like a drift car (sideways racing), so the rear of the car skirts out and thus Ward was struck and later died from his injuries.
Now the first question is why Ward exited the car? If you read the coverage of this online and subsequent reader comments some put the blame at Ward for walking down an active track (even if the yellow "caution" flag had flown), but lets keep it real, this happens a lot on NASCAR's highest stage, the Sprint Cup (and let me explain that "Sprint Cellular" is the sponsor for the NASCAR series and when we speak of "sprint cars", they are the small lower level local racing cars), and ironically Tony Stewart has exited a crashed car or two and also has been the aggressor more than once.
The next question is why is Tony Stewart basically racing on a minor league course? Well he has passion for local racing (including owning a small sprint car team and the local track in Eldora, Ohio, which just held the "Mudsummer Classic" for the Nascar Truck series a few weeks ago), and often races at the local level. Now with that said he was involved in a 15 car crash at this very upstate New York track a year ago and a fellow driver was seriously injured. He also was involved in a crash at a similar track in Southern Iowa last August and broke his leg and ended his NASCAR racing season.
But Stewart is not alone in racing at these "home tracks", former NASCAR stars, Kenny Wallace and Ken Schrader often compete at these tracks for "feature races" on Friday & Saturday nights. Kenny Wallace has raced locally at the Kankakee County track and its a thrill to see a big name at a small track. I grew up at the former Raceway Park in south suburban Calumet Park and Mark Martin made several appearances early in his career in the 1980's. And recently I've been to the Grundy County Speedway out in Morris, the racing is fun and local. But its very different than the big Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, the track is call "dirt" but its more like a bad country road surface, very slick and uneven. The lighting is not great and its the difference between the Joliet Slammer and Chicago White Sox baseball teams. And no you don't see Paul Konerko "slumming" into the lower levels of the sport but this is what a lot of people like about racing, the levels are transparent and big stars often "come home".
Now with all that said, should this activity of big fish coming to small ponds be allowed? We've seen the liabilities from this but remember this big stars sell tickets and give the local race fans a good show. But at what cost? Damage to their careers? And now there is a loss of life? Please remember racing is inherently dangerous for racers, crew and fans alike. We know what we are getting ourselves into every time we go to the track but its all about adrenaline and "the need for speed".
And yes a lot of emotion goes with this sport and there have been more tragic injuries and death that any race fan cares to remember. And this one is really tough, I watched the video once on my phone and once on ESPN's Sportscenter and I don't care top ever see that again. I've been to my share of races and seen many crashes but can't ever recall a racer being struck and killed on the track.
But Tony Stewart did the right thing in removing himself from today's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen, there needs to be an investigation on that incident from Saturday night and until its done he needs to be out of sight. The local authorities state there are no pending charges and Stewart is cooperating but none of this can be taken lightly, a life has been lost and for even us hard core fans its a moment to pause and pray.
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