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.
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.
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.