Tomas Tales: Stewart-Ward Tragedy an Accident. Period.

Tomas Tales: Stewart-Ward Tragedy an Accident. Period.

The only thing that stopped the poisonous whirl-wind of media coverage, some of it insulting, and social media traffic, most of it ludicrous, on the Tony Stewart/Kevin Ward racing tragedy, was the stunning news comedic and acting genius Robin Williams had departed this earth.

I will not get into a long protracted soap box rant about the Stewart/Ward incident, as I have already made my position known through an enormous amount of time on the air with not only Raceline Radio Network affiliates across Canada including Sportsnet 590 The FAN Toronto, but a few other hosts at non-affiliate stations who needed some input from a motorsport journalist.

At least “some” wanted to get the story and the facts straight, resisting the urge to join the hysteria.

The incident that killed young Ward during a sprint car race at Canandaigua Speedway in New York State this past weekend was an accident.

A horrible accident, but an accident.

Our main focus should have been on the loss of a talented 20 year old who was keeping this level of the sport vital, who paid the ultimate price due to a momentary lapse of reason in the heat of competition fueled by adrenalin.

Our thoughts and prayers to the Ward family and the racing fraternity have already been expressed and are heartfelt. The proper racing fans and media realized this was the right thing to do.

What sadly poisoned the process, was the ghastly media coverage by far too many so-called news people and journalists, who still don’t understand this sport and don’t want to understand it.

I spent far too much time on the air trying to stop those who wanted to attack Tony Stewart, based on his reputation for colourful behaviour, and blame the entire tragedy on the 3-time NASCAR Sprint Cup driver, team owner, track owner and IndyCar champion.

There have been far too many groundless and insidious accusations, especially by the Stewart-haters on social media, and on the air, that Stewart had “lost it again” and intentionally ran Kevin Ward down in front of thousands of fans at Canandaigua, and millions more watching replays.

Utterly ridiculous!

Similar insinuations by some news and talk show anchors also fall completely apart when you hear these people also stumble through countless factual errors about the story.

What’s tremendously sad is this current trend in some print and electronic mediums to say and/or write whatever you want, truthful or accurate or not, to create a sensational headline to get a reaction to boost ratings and subscribers.

Many don’t know Stewart, they don’t understand why he also drives sprint cars in addition to his NASCAR stock car racing assignments, and some know even less about the unique characteristics of sprint cars.

All of that is critical for accurate reporting, because I feel you need to be able to grasp those facts to understand why the accident may have happened.

This simply failed on too many fronts.

It comes down to this:

Stewart has not been charged, and will not be charged as police investigate the contact between his sprint car and Kevin Ward, because there’s no reason to lay charges.

This was a racing accident. A unique accident because the fatal injuries were not suffered during the actual competition, but an accident none the less.

What factors led to the unfortunate mishap?

Ward, angry over earlier contact with Stewart during the race, should not have been standing in the middle of a “hot” race track at night wearing a black fire suit and helmet, even under caution, waiting to confront Stewart.

The car ahead of Stewart had to suddenly swerve to avoid hitting Ward as the field passed through under yellow, and Stewart, in the next car, likely did not see Kevin standing in the racing groove until the last second.

That’s because visibility, especially out the right side of a winged sprint car is extremely limited.

Sprint car driver Dwight Carter posted a photograph of the view from the cockpit of his sprint car on Facebook, to give all of us an idea of the extremely restricted viewing window.

Dwight Carter Sprint Car visibility

Add in darkness, a helmet visor covered by several layers of “tear-off” plastic see-through visor covers, plus Ward’s dark clothing, and you can clearly understand why there’s a better than average chance Stewart didn’t see Kevin until the last second, and may not have realized how close he was to the big right-rear tire of his car that made contact with and killed the young driver.

Again, some of this is speculation, because only Stewart knows exactly what he saw and didn’t see. All we can do is present the conditions and situation to try and make the tragedy clearer.

So far, the police, most witnesses and fellow drivers at the track that night agree with the hypothesis.

I did not like the fact this journalistic tug of war, most of it based on ignorance and the reluctance to get things right, took away from the reflection on the sad loss of a bright young racing talent, son, brother, nephew and friend.

This one hit hard, and was a local story for me.

Canandaigua Motorsports Park, about 20 miles south of Rochester New York, is a facility Niagara-based DIRT modified and sprint car fans, teams and drivers that I am more than familiar with, attend on a regular basis.

I have guest track-announced at “The Track of Legends” several times.

I also know more than a few of the drivers that run with the Empire Super Sprint Series, the sanction that staged the fateful race.

God Speed Kevin Ward.

And those words should be the only words on our minds as we move forward through the balance of the season.


Tomas Tales: Changes and Dirt as we Slide into August

Tomas Tales August 4th

We need to apply the brakes to the summer of 2014, even though the wet cool weather to date has many wondering when the heat and humidity we’re accustomed to in this neck of the woods will actually arrive!

As we get into the final full month of a summer that is still passing us by way too quickly, let’s back up slightly for a recap.

For only the second time in the 28 years they’ve run IndyCar races on the Lakeshore in Toronto, rain messed up the weekend schedule at The Honda Indy Toronto.

IndyCar tried twice to get race # 1 of the double header started on the Saturday, but red flagged both attempts, when the standing rain water caused not only Will Power and Ryan Briscoe to spin out, but even the pace car slid off on a track so slippery and dangerous, they could not and would not start the event.

IndyCar wasn’t going to send cars out in treacherous conditions, despite the absurd suggestion by critics they should have started the race behind the pace car because IndyCar boasts they race in the rain on road and streets.

Yes, the same pace car that slid off the track because pooling water took away the grip entirely!

IndyCar does race on road and streets, but not when conditions are so bad you have no traction and no visibility.

It meant the event came down to a pair of shortened races on Sunday, and looking for a silver lining, I loved the sprint-style 65 lap dashes! No time to waste! Just go as fast as you can and hope you don’t run out of ethanol!

Sebastien Bourdais used that to perfection to win race # 1.

The rain returned to mess up the strategy in race # 2, but Mike Conway made a bold call to go back to slick tires as the racing groove dried, and that grabbed him the win.

His Ed Carpenter team is coached by our good friend Lee Bentham, so there is a Canadian connection to the “little” single-car team and their 3 wins to date this season.

We had to change plans on the fly around the weather with our Raceline/Sportsnet 590 The FAN trackside coverage, but in the end, we aired some entertaining driver interviews and enjoyed some spirited bench racing with our listeners.

Thanks to all who stopped by to say hello, and to remind me exactly how long Raceline has been covering the Toronto Indy!

As we head into the new month of August, there are big changes afoot for next year.

The Indy this year ran a week later so it wouldn’t compete with the final of the World Cup soccer tournament, but now reports have the Toronto double header running in June in 2015 for two reasons.

Houston doesn’t want to run again in the suffocating Texas heat and humidity in July, and will demand a schedule shift that will impact other events.

In addition, The Pan-Am Games in Toronto next summer will be using Exhibition Place property, namely BMO Field, so the move to June makes sense in both situations.

Toronto Indy management is currently talking with IndyCar to get a date for next year finalized.

The July-August transition is also big on dirt… dirt tracks that is!

You likely are aware our roots are still firmly planted in the clay tracks in and around Southern Ontario, Quebec, Western New York and the North East.

The World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series staged their annual summer Canadian Tour and former champ and Raceline Radio guest Donny Schatz swept the trio of stops at Autodrome Drummond, Drummondville Quebec, Cornwall Ontario and Ohsweken near Brantford Ontario.

In the Golden Horseshoe, the Niagara end, August is Big Block DIRT Modified time. The same sanctioning body that stages the World of Outlaws SprintCars and Late Models, also present the dirt modified machines also featured in weekly shows at Niagara Region speedways.

But it’s the Big Block Touring Modifieds, powered by stout 800 horsepower 467 cubic inch V-8 engines that fill the grandstands with ground-pounding 100 lap main events at back-to-back shows at Merrittville Speedway in St.Catharines Ontario, and Canadian-owned Ransomville Speedway, Ransomville NY.

Humberstone Speedway just outside Port Colbourne Ontario draws a huge crowd in August for their All-Canadian Championship for Sportsman Modifieds.

Right across the Raceline Radio Network, there are numerous major attractions to enjoy as we rapidly move out of July into August, prime-time for the sport at the local and regional level, as we see how the NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula One campaigns play out.