Four Lessons From the Tony Stewart-Kevin Ward Tragedy

Categories: Short Track Racing.
August 11, 2014
The Stephen Cox Blog is Presented by McGunegill Engine Performance

Most of the racing world now knows that sprint car driver Kevin Ward, Jr. was killed after being hit by Tony Stewart's car during a race this past weekend at New York's Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Volumes will be written about this incident for months to come, but a few lessons are already evident.

Unless the car is on fire, sit still and wait. Once the driver exits the cockpit he is completely vulnerable.
The fact that Ward got out of his racecar wearing a black fire suit and a black helmet in a dark corner of the race track is critical. Behind him stood his black #13 racecar, which provided no visual contrast whatsoever. The dirt racing surface was dark brown. Much of the wall behind Ward was either painted black or darkly stained from rubber and dirt. He was virtually invisible to everyone on the track.
What is truly shocking is not that Ward was tragically hit by Stewart, but that the car just in front of Stewart (the blue #45 of Chuck Hebing) missed him. Even if Stewart had avoided Ward, the young man would likely have been hit by one of the other cars that were just yards behind.
You simply cannot walk onto a racetrack at night in the middle of an event while wearing black from head to toe and expect any measure of safety.
Every driver's meeting in every racing series at every level worldwide tells every driver every weekend to remain in their car after a crash. Racing series must resist the urge to make new rules, new penalties and new mandates because of this tragedy.
If the last fifty rules didn't stop it, the next one won't either. Rules are not a magic elixir that replaces good judgment.
Yes, of course charges could be filed against Stewart. With more than one million pages of laws already on the books and 100 additional pages added daily, anyone in America can be arrested for pretty much anything.
But there is no tragedy so great that government cannot make it worse. Racing must distance itself from all things bureaucratic not only as a matter of integrity and principle, but for the survival of the sport. The land of the free already imprisons more of its own citizens than any nation on earth… caging those who are caught up in tragic accidents solves nothing.
It is true that emotional outbursts can sometimes help a player's performance in games such as football or basketball. But these are only games.
In most sports there is no place for emotion. Mountain climbing is a perfect example. An emotional climber is a dangerous liability in a blinding snowstorm at 15,000 feet in sub-zero temperatures. There is no room for anger, fear, rage or other judgment-altering emotions when every decision could mean life or death.
Likewise, motor racing is not a game. It is a sport. There are no ten-yard penalties and no fouls. Drivers who suffer from outbursts of emotion must either find the discipline to restrain themselves or give up sports and find a game that suits their temperament. 
Tony Stewart made a mistake by pushing Ward's car into the guardrail. Ward made a mistake by failing to control his emotions and exiting his racecar. It's too late for them to change anything, but it's not too late for us to learn from the incident.

Stephen Cox
Sopwith Motorsports Television Productions
Co-host, Mecum Auto Auctions on NBCSN
Boschett Timepieces/Acorn Cabinetry Racing #82

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