What’s The Worst That Could Happen?

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Hasn’t everyone heard their dad say: “It’s all fun and games until……”

And you can fill in the blank.

– Somebody loses an eye
– You crack your skull wide open
– Your finger gets cut in half

And so on, and so forth.

Dads were – and are – good at assessing and minimizing risk to their kids. And especially when it comes to NEEDLESS risk. Knowing that kids do things all the time – in the mere business of being, well, KIDS – that could result in grave bodily harm, dads look to take the auxilliary risk off the table entirely.

When it comes to sport, we are slowing waking up to the notion of taking needless risk out of the equation entirely. And given how risky auto racing is at face value, there was simply no need for what happened between Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward Jr. on that dark, dank dirt track last weekend.

The entire incident is more a reflection on our “what bad could happen to ME?” society. I read with bemused horror more and more stories of people dying taking selfies.

Yes. Dying. As in: “Children Watch Parents Tumble to Death Off Cliff Taking A Selfie”.

Our sense of danger as humans, was keenest thousands of years ago. Our ability to hear and process the sound of a single snapped twig in the forest was all that separated us from a bloody death.

Now, we are coddled in the warm embrace of technology, and advanced western civilization.

Our cell phones remind us. Our airbags protect us. And our media culture seems to trivilalize (or at least commoditize) danger, harm, and death.

I mean, anyone with brain enough to pilot a race car, has brain enough to know not to run out into traffic.
But that same brain in Ward also said: “Go out there and MAKE A SCENE.”

It’s what you see on TV every weekend in NASCAR. And of course, the ruling powers of the sport love it.

L-O-V-E I-T.

“Have at it boys! Throw those helmets at passing cars. Get into pushing matches on the track apron! Anything for us to get bumped a few notches higher on the SportsCenter rundown.”

Until something like this happens. And then everyone gets all quiet and reflective and says: “Oh. Uh… yeah. Well…”
Maybe we should start enforcing stricter standards about on-track confrontations.

Yeah. Ya think?

Everybody wants to put a scorecard down on blame. Mine would be 70-30, with Stewart taking the lighter end.

Yeah, I know. He appeared to “light the tires” to scare/intimidate/embarrass Ward. The added torque of these dirt track cars led to a momentary spin out, that caught Ward in the wheels, cartwheeling himself to his own death.

But in the end, this incident needs to be a stark reminder that the real world is not some reality show. It has consequences that last forever. You don’t get to return in a future episode to carry on your petty little “feud” for the sake of the TV cameras.

This is real life.

Time for everyone to start acting like it.

13 COMMENTS

  1. Truly a tragedy by a couple hot heads but I’ve heard it said (okay is was by Doc Hudson in the movie Cars) that “if you’re going hard enough left, you’ll find yourself turning right.” to get those things to turn on dirt.

    After many miles on a snowmobile and I often would give it gas to have more control over the steering. When the crap really came down the best way to lose control was to hit the brakes, it was way easier to get the back end sliding out with throttle and steering. After a couple thousand miles of doing it that way it is a reaction, not a decision.

    Racing is a dangerous activity by itself, don’t make it more dangerous by going for a walk on the track.

  2. During the late 70s and early 80s I spent nearly every Saturday night from May through September at the Flemington Speedway’s 1/3 mile dirt track watching sprint car races as a member of local rescue squad. The first thing you learned was to NEVER go onto the track while cars are moving and drivers were instructed to stay in their car unless it was on fire. These tracks are slick under the best conditions and dimly lit. While Stewart may have tried to buzz Ward and appeared to be driving a bit fast under the yellow caution flag, Ward, in his black fire suit, has no one to blame but himself.

  3. Czabe, excellent points you make here. I agree. By not punishing drivers who throw helmets and wag their fingers when they’re pissed off, they actually are saying that they’re okay with drivers doing this sort of thing. I thought there was a rule (maybe it’s one of those unwritten rules) where unless your car was on fire, you were supposed to stay inside the car after an accident.

    So, like you said, both drivers are to share the blame and I agree with you…more of the blame should be on Ward than Stewart.

  4. Although the accident was truly a tragedy, thats all it was, an ACCIDENT. I can’t stand reading articles titled “Tony Stewart kills fellow driver” etc. This tragic event is simply an oppurtunity for the perpetually offended, cry-baby NASCAR haters out there to take jabs at the sport. That being said, I think you are spot on with your 70-30 fault judgement. Take Tony Stewart off the cross! I have three reasons why….

    1. Have any of those blaming Stewart ever seen a sprint car in “real life?” The driver sits in a cocoon of metal, looking out a front window the size of a pill box which is then covered with chicken wire to prevent large rocks from flying into the cockpit. The massive wing on the car makes seeing to the drivers right at slow speed almost impossible. So add in the facts that it was dark, and Ward Jr. had a black suit and black helmet on, Id say it is very likely likely that Steward didn’t even see him until the last second, if at all.

    2. Now, let me debunk the theory that “Stewart hit the gas in order to hit him.” Was Stewart’s plan to give him a dirt shower and in a sense teach him a harmless lesson? We will never know. What I do know is this, in order to make those cars turn, it takes throttle. A quick burst on the 800hp engine of a sprint car will cause an abrupt vehicular darting to the drivers left. I think it is completely possible that Stewart hit the throttle to move the car closer to the inside of the track, away from the wrecked race car of ward. However, the timing of the throttle burst and contact with Ward Jr. makes Tony look bad.

    3. Finally, in my Jaworski-esque analysis of the replay I made a few observations. Did anyone else see that the driver who passes an “on foot” Ward just before Stewart, damn near hit him as well? Again, it’s hard to see out there people! Next, Im not 100% familiar with the rules of this particular track or series, but, I also think its entirely possible that Stewart did not have radio communication with someone in his ear saying, “look out, there someone running around on the racetrack.” This was evident by the fact that Stewart was traveling at normal caution speeds, had he known Ward was on the racetrack there is no doubt in my mind Stewart would have been going WAY slower.

    Overall, this was the perfect storm of bad decisions and bad timing. It sucks that it had to happen. I feel for the family of Kevin Ward Jr., and Tony Stewart’s career.

    Loyal Bob and Brian listener,

    Joe

  5. People dont realize that sprint cars have staggered sized rear tires, no gearboxes and a live rear axle. If Stewart “lit it up” before, he was trying to pivot the back end to steer away from Ward, who was on the racing line. Those cars are throttle steered at speed. Go to any in car and listen to them steer in the corner with the throttle.

    Stewart’s blame is more around %4. Just for being there that night.

  6. Good post Czabe but have to disagree on the 70%-30% thing.

    Mainly it’s the difference between the two here– from what I glean (and I’m not a NASCAR fan) Stewart liked to “dabble” on these dirt tracks as the highly accomplished driver he his.

    As such, maybe he was trying to teach this kid a lesson. Yet you see drivers getting out of their cars all the time and barking. As he was a young competitor, I lay more blame on Stewart for not protecting him. At least 60-40 the other way.

  7. Well said Czabe, although I would put the blame closer to 80/20, light on Stewart. You are right that NASCAR LOVED these things until this incident. The problem is not only our coddling and misperception of danger due to technology, but is a reflection of a society that does not hold people who do dumb shit accountable for their own actions…. it is always someone else’s fault that a dumb-ass did something that got him/her hurt or killed. Personal responsibility is long gone in American society. I understand Wards fathers views, but WTF? Where is the outrage that his son CLIMBED OUT OF A CAR ON A RACE TRACK AND CONFRONTED….. A MOVING CAR?!?!? His comments about “other drivers saw him” should be attached to the clip of what looks like car 45 coming very close to Ward Jr. How about this theory… it could appear to Stewart as he rounds the curve that Ward Jr was trying to make for the infield as he appears to head a step or two that way after car 45 passes, so Stewart gooses it to go wide, but Ward Jr. jumps back that direction? Just another viewpoint/opinion to consider.

  8. Long-time, first-time and not a journalist, so bear with my rambling. First off, thanks for not going into histrionics like most of the ‘professional’ media, Czabe. This is, indeed a tragedy and it’s not really in anyone’s best interest to be tossing blame around lightly. I don’t have an axe to grind for either side but I have been a fan of this type of racing for 50 years now and have some lmiited insight to add. I’ve been behind these cars in one of the push trucks used to fire the engines (the cars don’t have starters) and can tell you that between the top wing and the tail tank, visibility is quite restricted beyond the car directly in front of you. Add the limited lighting, the walker’s black fire suit, the driver wearing a helmet with multiple layers of ‘tear-offs’, the dropped right side panel of the top wing, a HANS device, and the head restraint built into the seat and there is suddenly not a lot of visibility (especially on the right side). Additionally, a pedestrian on the track is the last thing any driver in this situation would be looking for or expecting and there is no spotter or radio communication to tell you he is there; that the guy on foot is in the hardest place to spot him doesn’t help matters. All that said to make the point that it’s really easy to blame the guy who ‘walked away’ but there are a lot of factors that, in all likelihood, made this a perfect storm that has taken down all ships concerned in one way or another. In the end, you are correct in stating that folks need to stop acting (or reacting in the case of many, many commentators) like the world is some sort of reality TV show by judging the motives of either of these drivers and thereby fueling the drama.

  9. You gave the nail a glancing blow but missed hitting it squarely.
    Yes the organizers love the drama and interest which is created by the dust ups between drivers, in the pits or garages usually. But they need to be held accountable for their failure to make obviously dangerous behavior verboten, and they can. If every driver in a given series knew that getting out of his (or her) car on a hot race track and attempting to confront another driver would get them suspended, points taken away, and/or fined, then they would not do it. Or at least be significantly deterred from doing so.
    Granted you cannot do away by rule all really stupid behavior such as this young driver demonstrated, but you can discourage it with significant consequences for anyone who violates the rule.

  10. Amen, brother. Very well said. Especially the “coddling” part. This just in: “motorsports are dangerous. We now return you to your regularly scheduled life.”

  11. As soon as this happened, I knew they would change the rule. No one can close the barn door better than NASCAR. They have been stupid for allowing this for years. You can go all the way back to the Pearsons and Allisons and remember all the out-of-car shenanigans. And it’s all posturing and grandstanding. It’s like an end-zone celebration….. where you can get killed. Can’t believe it was allowed to go on this long.

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