Much as been made over Tony Stewart’s desire to race his car in Watkins Glen on Sunday afternoon, and understandably so. What’s not so easy to understand is why so much has been made by some regarding NASCAR’s decision to run the race as scheduled.
Regarding Stewart, I was very much in the corner of not allowing him on the racetrack on Sunday. Perhaps not for the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean I don’t fully understand why he wanted to be out there.
Tony Stewart’s desire to race the Sunday following the horrific incident in upstate New York did not stem from a lack of care or concern about Kevin Ward Jr and his family. It did not stem from an insensitivity to the matter at hand or the seriousness of what had just taken place. And while it played a factor, it did not even stem from the millions of dollars of sponsor money he’s made commitments to, the season long championship he and hundreds of his employees are striving to reach that would be completely undermined by his absence or even the fans who spent their hard earned money to come watch their favorite driver race.
No, it stemmed from the very same place Kevin Ward’s decision to confront Tony Stewart came from. He’s a racer. Period. That’s what they do. That’s all they do. That’s all they know. It’s what defines them. They get in the car, and they try to win. And nothing, and no one, can take that away from them.
Kevin Ward was angry with Tony Stewart because he felt wronged on the track. He felt something was taken from him, and he wanted to let the three time Sprint Cup Champion know how he felt. His competitive drive, the racer in him, is why he confronted Stewart.
It’s the racer in Stewart that propelled him to want to drive on Sunday.
Sure, the phrase, “Business as usual”, as uttered by Stewart-Haas competition director and long time Stewart friend Greg Zipadelli, may have come across as highly insensitive and inappropriate. And “Zippy”, as he’s known throughout the garage, probably regrets his word choice.
But if you could ask Kevin Ward if he was insulted by such a mind set, or comment, I would wager a lot of money he’d say no. It’s what racers do. Death is an unfortunate part of motorsports. It always has been, and despite monumental safety efforts to curtail the rate at which fatal injuries occur, it always will be.
It’s not to say racecar drivers ignore death, or become insensitive to it, but they learn they must know how to deal with it. It’s all around them. It awaits them at every corner.
There’s a line in Days of Thunder, “If you get a racecar driver to a funeral before he’s actually in one, you’ve made history”. While not technically accurate, it hits on the overall mindset of a racecar driver. As Harry Hogge says in the movie, “they don’t want to be reminded of what can happen to them in a racecar”.
When Dale Earnhardt died in 2001, the sport didn’t stop. His son didn’t stop. His team owner didn’t stop. They showed up the next week at the racetrack, “business as usual”. Of course, it wasn’t business as usual, we know that, and they knew that. But that’s the approach they had to take.
There have obviously been times where a team may take a week off following a death, such as Robert Yates in 1993 after Davey Allison was killed. But the following week, at Allison’s hometrack no less, there was a black no. 28 Havoline ford, piloted by someone else. Why? Because they’re racers, and that’s what they do.
What is the best way to honor a racer who has passed on? Get out there and race. Believe me, or believe any racer who’s ever lived instead, that’s indeed what they would want. To know that racing was put on hold on account of them would not sit well with any driver who’s ever sat foot in a racecar.
Beyond all of that, inside the racecar is home to a true racer. It’s the one place they can go to get away from everything else. It’s therapeutic, it’s their escape. So in a time of great turmoil, it only stands to reason Stewart would seek out the one place of refuge he’s known his whole life. The racecar.
As I mentioned earlier, I was fully against Stewart racing on Sunday, and am not sure how I feel about him racing going forward. But I knew he’d want to. And I wasn’t going to blame him for that.
At this point, this is where most likely NASCAR, and/or his sponsors stepped in and told Tony, in light of everything going on, getting in that racecar wasn’t the right thing to do. Were this still the 1970s and were NASCAR not under the unfortunate scrutiny of a national media that only pays attention when bad things happen, things would have likely been different. But that’s not the era we live in.
Instead we live in an era where CBS writes articles creating implications that Tony Stewart has threatened to do what he did on Saturday night in years past. Never mind the fact that they completely took the phrase “run him over” out of context, they have no use for educating themselves on the topic at hand. They just choose to talk. Personally, I find that as prime an example of slander and libel, or whatever you call it, as can exist.
But that doesn’t matter. To the non race fan, they read that Stewart once said of Matt Kenseth, “I’m going to run him over every chance I get”, and now the non racing reader sees Tony Stewart as a violent man who was just waiting to kill someone. As a man who’d already threatened to do so. It doesn’t matter how far from the truth that is.
It doesn’t matter how they completely failed to put those words in context, or even explain what is actually meant when a driver says that. It’s of course ridiculously irresponsible journalism, but it doesn’t matter. The damage is done. The black eye is created. The image of Tony Stewart and perception by those outside of the racing community is now etched in stone.
The image of what NASCAR is, what auto racing is, and who racers are, is being permanently marred by a reprehensible and sickening lack of professionalism.
And that’s the box NASCAR found themselves in. The eyes of a world who doesn’t get it was on them, the eyes of a world completely ignorant to the nuances and culture of the sport. The eyes of a world who, despite utter ignorance, couldn’t wait to open their mouth and offer their “expert” opinion. In such a box, NASCAR did what was right, it wouldn’t let Tony Stewart run that race.
But of course, not even that’s enough. People continue to bash Tony Stewart for wanting to race. Some go so far as to bash NASCAR for running their race.
I guess next time a kid gets shot over a playground basketball game, then the NBA is going to be held responsible and should be required to not play any games the following day, no? Or the next time a drunken brawl breaks out in a summer softball game, Major League Baseball should take responsibility.
What happened on Saturday night involved a driver who competes in NASCAR. That’s the extent of NASCAR’s involvement. If we cancelled sporting events every time an athlete who competed in a premier sport was involved in something like this, we’d never finish a season.
Should the Patriots have cancelled their season a year ago when it was discovered one of their players was being charged with murder? Should the Ravens have to….. never mind, it’s the Ravens, they embrace that culture. But the point is clear.
If Tony Stewart were involved in a highway accident that killed someone, would we be screaming at NASCAR to “get control of the situation”, as Jim Gray has done. Of course, it is Jim Gray, about one of the most disgusting pieces of journalistic filth on the planet. Even still, the point remains, NASCAR had nothing to do with the incident that took place.
Yet here we are, “expert” after “expert” coming on TV just to get their face on the television and hear themselves talk, blaming NASCAR for something that happened 100% outside of their jurisdiction.
These people wanted NASCAR to cancel their race on Sunday. Forget the millions of dollars already poured into the event. Forget the thousands of fans who’d spent their hard earned money, some on treks across the country, to be there. Forget the people of the Finger Lakes region who rely so heavily on the money brought in during a NASCAR race weekend. Forget all of that. Let’s punish all of these people, let’s cancel this race, because of something that happened that had nothing to do with NASCAR.
The ONLY connection to NASCAR was that of Tony Stewart. And NASCAR did the right thing and kept Tony Stewart out of the race. Yet, to some, that’s still not enough. And that’s just absolutely preposterous.
I’m not here right now to debate who was at fault and to what extent. I’m not here to talk about what criminal charges could be brought, what should be brought and what type of civil action could be forthcoming. I’m here to tell the people who don’t know anything about NASCAR, or racing in general, to just shut-up.
“‘Tis better to be thought a fool than open your mouth and prove it”.
You won’t see me go on lengthy diatribes about politics. Why? Because I’m ignorant when it comes to politics. I stay out of such discussions, and if I’m in one, it’s only to ask questions and listen to answers.
But that doesn’t stop everyone and their mother from suddenly becoming an expert on the sport of auto racing, and offering up their worthless opinions like they have some sort of merit.
The culture of racing differs from that than any other sport. That’s just the way it is. You don’t have to understand it. You don’t have to like it. But you need to respect it. And when you don’t know anything about it, you need to shut up about it.
So many of you want to sit up on your high horse, on your self created pedestal and talk about about how all this disrespect to Kevin Ward, and to the family, blah blah.
I know it’s tragic that Kevin Ward isn’t here to speak for himself right now. But if he could, I’d be willing to bet an arm and a leg that he would say all of you people who are going on about how Tony Stewart was disrespectful to the family by wanting to race, and how NASCAR shouldn’t have run the race, and all of these uninformed opinions being thrown about trashing NASCAR and auto racing are doing far more to disrespect him and the sport he loves than anything Tony Stewart, Greg Zipadelli, or NASCAR have done in recent days.
So when asking who the real insensitive jerks are, and asking what the real problem is, some of you should look in the mirror.