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For Stewart, Life And Racing Are The Same Thing

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 1 2014

Tony Stewart will go on racing but things will never be the same for him. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

During a press conference on Monday, Tony Stewart was asked if he had considered retiring as a driver in the days since he was involved in an on-track incident in which 20-year-old competitor Kevin Ward Jr. was struck and killed by Stewart’s car.

People who know Stewart even just a little bit knew what the answer to that question was going to be. They knew that Stewart would never be able to adjust to life were he to completely walk away from driving race cars.

For Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup champion, driving race cars isn’t what he does, it’s who he is. For Stewart, racing and living are the same thing.

“This is what I’ve done all my life,” he said Monday. “This is what I’ve done for 36 years.

“I wouldn’t change anything about it. I love what I do. I love driving race cars. I think it might change, right now, as far as how much of it and what I do. There was never a thought in my head about stopping. That would take the life out of me.”

Get what he’s saying? It is, basically: Were he to retire, then that incident on a darkened dirt track in upstate New York would have claimed yet another victim.

And there have been enough of those.

The Ontario County grand jury’s decision last week that Stewart will not be prosecuted as a result of the incident – which occurred when Ward angrily got out of his sprint car during a caution, and waded into oncoming traffic in an apparent effort to confront Stewart – was just.

The view here, from someone who has spent a lot of time at race tracks and and a bit of time with Stewart, is that he is correct in his claim that what happened at Canandaigua Motorsports Park on Aug. 9 was 100 percent, an accident.

Whether Ward was led out onto that track that night by the marijuana that was in his system or by unadulterated anger, doesn’t matter. It was a horribly tragic move that ended up taking Ward’s life.

Racing is dangerous when all possible precautions are taken. You don’t need to be a physicist to know about the terrible things that can happen when a couple thousand pounds of steel are moving at anywhere betweent 35 to 200 mph. Fans, and especially competitors have seen the results again and again.

No number of belts, no thickness of kevlar, no design of crush panels and no design of soft walls or catch fencing can assure survivability in racing. Walking around on a dark track in the middle of the night in dark clothing? It was an unwise decision that led to a tragic accident.

Racing folks didn’t need a grand jury to tell them those things.

So one young man is dead and another is emotionally mutated: Stewart will never be the same person that he was on Aug. 8.

Stewart said that while he will carry on in NASCAR, he may not again drive sprint cars – something he did simply for fun prior to the incident.

He said Monday that the incident and its aftermath have given him time and cause to examine the meaning of fun.

“Driving a race car has consumed my life,” Stewart said. “It’s all I’ve thought about, it’s all I’ve cared about, and everything else was second on down the list of priorities for me. This has given me the opportunity to sit here and think about other aspects of my life and what they’re really going to mean to me in the future. … It’s made me think about some of those other aspects of my life that have kind of been put on hold for years.”

“Closure” is one of those contemporary psychobabble terms that experts and lay alike love to work into their spiels. It sounds so clinical and yet so pompous in its overuse and its ambiguity.

And here it is again in the Stewart-Ward incident. Everybody is using it. But nobody will ever feel it.

Not Stewart: “It’s (the incident) not something that goes away. It will never go away. It’s always going to be part of my life the rest of my life.”

And, obviously, not Ward’s family and supporters. They press on in their war with Stewart and, it can be easily argued, the facts. Their war is not winning many external allies, if comment sections of internet stories are any indication.

Threatening civil action, which undoubtedly will mean demands for massive amounts of money, and claiming that they are doing in fairness to Kevin Ward Jr., just is not going to sit well in a community that is steeped in the ethos of taking responsibility for one’s own actions.

It sounded Monday that Stewart knows that there is nothing he can do to ameliorate the hatred the Ward family is feeling toward him.

“I want to be available to them if they want to talk about it,” Stewart said. “At this point, I don’t need to talk to them for closure. I know what happened and I know it was an accident, but I’m offering to talk to them to help them if it helps with closure.”

Closure? Not going to happen for anybody in this case. Nobody involved is ever going to be the same again.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 1 2014


  • Howie says:

    I never knew Tony Stewart was such an Angel, What a great guy that Tony. Maybe we should name a track after him or at least a race, think i’ll name my next dog Tony or maybe Smoke. Wish I could give him a big hug like his Nascar buddies did. What a great guy that Tony!

  • amazed says:

    Goodness, when is the Vatican going to make Tony a Saint. You know..because he has suffered so much according to the Nascar media, Tony and the fans with a unhealthy allegiance to any sports celebrity. Prayers to the Ward family.