Thursday, October 23, 2014
My Account  | Login
Nashua;49.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/nra.png;2014-10-23 05:23:20
Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tony Stewart and the dirt track tragedy

Telegraph Editorial

In the hours following the Saturday night death of a 20-year-old man who was killed after being struck by a car driven by NASCAR veteran Tony Stewart at a track in upstate New York, Stewart’s racing team said that it would be “business as usual.” The driver known as “Smoke” would race as scheduled at Watkins Glen on Sunday afternoon, said an official with Stewart-Haas Racing.

It wasn’t until Sunday morning, only hours before the Watkins Glen race was to begin, that Stewart’s team finally caught up to the obvious and opted not to have the driver race. Any other decision would have been callous and wrong and it’s a shame it took so long for the right call to be made. ...

Sign up to continue

Print subscriber?    Sign up for Full Access!

Please sign up for as low as 36 cents per day to continue viewing our website.

Digital subscribers receive

  • Unlimited access to all stories from nashuatelegraph.com on your computer, tablet or smart phone.
  • Access nashuatelegraph.com, view our digital edition or use our Full Access apps.
  • Get more information at nashuatelegraph.com/fullaccess
Sign up or Login

In the hours following the Saturday night death of a 20-year-old man who was killed after being struck by a car driven by NASCAR veteran Tony Stewart at a track in upstate New York, Stewart’s racing team said that it would be “business as usual.” The driver known as “Smoke” would race as scheduled at Watkins Glen on Sunday afternoon, said an official with Stewart-Haas Racing.

It wasn’t until Sunday morning, only hours before the Watkins Glen race was to begin, that Stewart’s team finally caught up to the obvious and opted not to have the driver race. Any other decision would have been callous and wrong and it’s a shame it took so long for the right call to be made.

The events that took place Saturday night at the Canadaigua Speedway are tragic, and the video of Stewart, 43, striking Kevin Ward Jr., as the latter ran down the dirt race track on foot is genuinely disturbing. Ward gesticulated wildly at Stewart, who had just put Ward’s car into the wall. When Stewart came around the track again – this time under the yellow caution flag following Ward’s wreck – he struck Ward, who was pronounced dead at a local hospital not long afterward.

Those who say that the younger driver is responsible for his own death because he left the relative safety of his car’s cage and ran into traffic are going too far. Ward’s bad judgment unquestionably put him in harm’s way, but his behavior doesn’t warrant or justify a death sentence. Frustrated drivers exit their cages and run onto race tracks all the time, sometimes hurling their helmets at other drivers they believe have wronged them. Stewart himself has done it.

If nothing else comes of this, it seems clear enough that drivers running onto live race tracks is a practice that must be eliminated with iron-clad rules, regardless of how the events in New York conclude.

Stewart, for his part, had no shortage of detractors even before this incident, largely because he has a well-deserved reputation as a hothead. This tragic incident feeds into that history, but it would be foolish to suggest that Stewart – a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion – intended to hit Ward.

Some observers who believe Stewart might have been trying to throw a scare into Ward claim that Stewart gunned his engine as he approached Ward, and that caused Stewart’s car to fishtail, with the rear of the car striking the fatal blow.

Another explanation is that Stewart revved his engine to get the car to move left, away from Ward, and the fishtailing was an unfortunate byproduct of that action.

It is impossible to know what was going through Stewart’s mind at that precise moment, but the fact that a person died is evidence that not enough caution was used by Stewart or Ward.

The matter is in the hands of the legal system and local authorities said theirs is not a criminal investigation.

It should be, even if no charges are ultimately brought.

Tony Stewart should not be penalized because he is famous or because he has demonstrated a bad temper in the past. Neither should his fame or profession exempt him from the law if he is found in this instance to have acted recklessly, negligently or without the proper degree of caution, and that led to a death that could have been prevented. He should be subject to the same legal consequences that Kevin Ward would have faced had Ward been driving, and he had struck and killed Tony Stewart as the latter ran down a dimly lit track in anger.