By David G. Firestone
I try to keep it light as I can on The Driver Suit Blog. I try not to get into very serious issues, but the events on Saturday night have forced my hand in this respect. As you all know by now, last Saturday, Tony Stewart was involved in a tragic incident at a sprint car race where fellow driver Kevin Ward Jr. was sadly killed. I as well as many people were shocked that it had happened. My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Kevin Ward Jr.
A couple days after the incident happened, I got into a discussion with a friend of mine who is a long time boxing fan. He recounted watching the Ray Mancini/Kim Duk-koo fight in 1982. Like many fans he thought that it was a great fight, and was shocked at the aftermath. Mancini blamed himself for what happened, and had to have friends and family support to get back in the ring.
There is an interesting parallel to these incidents. Both Tony Stewart and Ray Mancini are competitors and they did not mean to end another life in competition. Nobody wanted this to happen, and they feel horrible that it did. At the same time, they do bear the responsibility of what happened because they were directly involved. Tony is considered one of the best race car drivers in America and he knew how to handle these cars. He raced these cars his whole life. Again, he didn’t want this to happen but his actions helped lead to this accident.
Do the other competitors have some culpability in these incidents? Yes. In the Ray Mancini/Kim Duk-koo fight, Duk-koo was a willing participant and stayed in the fight longer than he should have. Kevin Ward Jr. was a willing participant. He got out of the car and tried to confront Tony Stewart. Every racing sanctioning body has rules governing getting out of a car on track. What I’m about to say might seem insensitive but it needs to be said. If Kevin had never got out of the car and tried to confront Tony, then the incident would never have happened. Again that might seem insensitive, but the truth often is. I understand he is a race car driver, I understand he loved what he did, and he was passionate about it. That can be understood, if not respected. However in the heat of the moment he made a bad choice, and paid the price for it.
One thing that I have to think will change is that NASCAR will make a rule change concerning Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series drivers racing these “extracurricular” races. I’ve been wondering if and when a decision like this would be made, and I think that now NASCAR has no other choice. People wonder why Tony would race in these kinds of races that often pay less than $3000 when he is a 3 time Sprint Cup Champion. The answer is simple, Tony is the kind of guy who is truly happy when he is in a race car. The man loves to race. You or I can make judgments, but racing isn’t just a job, its a love of his.
This is not without precedent, since the accident, two dirt tracks in New York have made changes to the rules, and there are hints that NASCAR would do the same in the very foreseeable future.. The rule would be that a driver must stay in their car after a wreck until the safety crew arrives, unless the car is on fire, or the driver’s safety is in jeopardy.
One of the other rules I was wondering about was changed on Friday, when NASCAR announced that effective immediate, a rule is now in place banning drivers from exiting cars unless the car is on fire, there is smoke in the driver compartment, or any other situation where the driver’s safety is in danger, or may be in danger. This is a welcome change from the past, and I hope other tracks and sanctioning bodies follow up.
I’m as shocked as anyone when it comes to Saturday night, but what happened has happened. I’ve had an article concerning Tony Stewart ready for a while, but I’m gonna hold off for the time being. I will also not grade any of his paint schemes in respect to the accident this last week. I ask all of my readers not to judge until all the facts are in, as I will when it comes to this situation.