Racing learns some tough lessons
Two weeks ago, on Aug. 9, Kevin Ward Jr. lost his life in an on-track incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park that also involved former IndyCar and NASCAR champion Tony Stewart.
Many drivers have lost their lives while driving, including greats like Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Ayrton Senna.
It is a danger that is reluctantly accepted. However, the tragedy at Canandaigua Motorsports Park was different.
Tony Stewart’s car struck Ward after a crash. An angry Ward exited his car and walked onto the active racing surface. He approached Stewart’s car, throwing his hands in the air and showing his displeasure.
It was then that Stewart drove his car, and the right rear tire of the sprint car struck Ward, who was later pronounced dead.
For me, this accident really hit home.
I raced champ karts in the World Karting Association for 12 years from 2001 until 2012 at tracks in Pennsylvania and throughout the country. I have also been to countless sprint car and NASCAR races.
In short, I grew up with racing. It has been and always will be my passion.
Unfortunately, many people who do not know racing were quick to pass judgment on this accident.
I have never raced a sprint car, but I have been in one and have been to dozens of races. These cars supply limited visibility, high horsepower, lack a radio for communication and are very light in weight, making them hard to control.
This incident occurred on a dimly lit, slick dirt track in a car that does not provide much visibility.
It is possible that Stewart did not see Ward until the last second. Ward’s black race suit and helmet also would be difficult to see.
It also is possible that when Stewart saw Ward, he revved his engine to try to turn the car and avoid him. The video shows that Stewart moves up the track to the right.
It is important to know that sprint cars kick sideways upon being throttled and turned, so turning the car right would ideally throw the rear of the car left. Stewart could have done this in an effort to avoid Ward.
Another possibility is that Stewart was trying to throw dirt or “buzz” Ward and make a point.
This certainly does not mean he was trying to strike him with his car. Stewart may have felt Ward overreacted to the crash. In the past, I have seen drivers accelerate, spin the tires and “buzz” another driver who has come on to the track to show displeasure.
While this may not be the smartest move a driver could make, it is something that has been going on for years. Drivers are not immune to losing their tempers – including Stewart, who has been in altercations over the years, most notably throwing his helmet at fellow NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth’s car.
But Stewart has never intentionally tried to cause harm in these incidents, especially by using his car. Revving your engine to show another driver you aren’t going to back down is almost common practice. It likely won’t be anymore.
The common feeling among the racing community is that Stewart wouldn’t intentionally hit another driver. I believe this is absolutely correct.
The more important aspect for the future of racing that reaches farther than just sprint cars is that Ward left his car and walked onto the racing surface.
In my opinion, rule one of a crash is to stay in the car until it is safe to exit. NASCAR and many local racetracks have implemented a rule stating drivers should not exit their car until safety crews have arrived, unless there are extenuating circumstances such as a fire.
Hopefully this can prevent any other similar incidents. While the racing community mourns the loss of Kevin Ward Jr., it can also learn from this terrible incident.
Lynam, a resident of Duncansville, is entering his junior year at the University of Pittsburgh.