It has been exactly one week since the tragic events unfolded at Canandaigua Speedway in upstate New York. I was returning home from a late work shift at 5:15 am listening to the overnight sports radio broadcast. I could not believe what I was hearing. As I heard more I came to realize that while Kevin Ward Jr. was dead, I could never imagine for the life of me that his life was taken intentionally. Moving forward would be Tony Stewart’s biggest challenge yet both as a racer and more importantly as a human being.
It is said that while the deceased is gone, free from the turmoil of their injuries, the difficulties lie with the grieving. The family most importantly and in this the person who was responsible for his death. I am not saying Stewart is legally responsible, however it was his #14 Sprint Car that struck Ward Jr. which ended his life. I cannot even attempt to fathom the guilt that Stewart is living at this moment. I have to unfortunately say that Ward Jr. bears some responsibility in leaving his car and running into the racing groove on a caution where the cars had not completely slowed down. All I can think to say sometimes is “Kevin if you just had stayed in your car you would be alive”.
What is intriguing to me is all of the media who never cover NASCAR except in time’s of difficulty and folks in social media who have no inkling of racing at the NASCAR level let alone the Sprint Car level all of a sudden have opinions of what has happened, what should happen to Stewart. Based on a grainy cell phone video shot at the track that night people are now calling him a murderer, people saying he had intent to run Ward Jr down, people saying he is legally responsible for Ward Jr’s death, people are asking why Stewart is racing Sprint cars, people saying he was trying to intimidate Ward Jr by “buzzing” him. Whatever happened to due process is beyond me. I would argue and I would be right in saying that no one gives back to grass roots racing more than Smoke. He bought Eldora and brought a Camping World Truck Series race there. He appears at these local dirt tracks to help promote the sport and draw attendance to help local track owners. He owns Sprint race teams to give drivers a chance. All he does is race. That is all he knows. His car control is impeccable as proven by being a three time NASCAR champion. For him to intentionally run down a competitor is beyond fathomable to me.
Not being an expert in Sprint car racing, or Tony Stewart as I have never come close to either, I feel I have some sort of understanding of Smoke as I have followed his career since his open-wheel days and his rise to prominence in NASCAR. His history of being hot-headed, arrogant, confrontational and opinionated is now being used as fuel by many in society to convict him as a murderer. This is as a result of the anonymity of the internet. People spew venom knowing they will not be held accountable for what they say. That is not fair to the family nor Stewart.
Stewart is obviously grieving. From what I have read and heard in the circles is the only people he is communicating with are the Sheriff’s Department in Canandaigua NY and the Stewart-Haas Racing executives. He has isolated himself, grieving at the knowledge he took another racer’s life with his race car. It is obvious that he is in no shape emotionally to be involved with anything to do with racing. Smoke should grieve for as long as he needs to before facing the media. I feel however the best therapy might be for him to do what he does best. Stepping into a fire suit, strapping on his helmet, putting on his gloves and go racing. At least he could be rid of the demons in his head for a three hour chunk of time.