When Tragedy Strikes Racing

Tony Stewart Winged Sprint Car

Tony Stewart Winged Sprint Car

Everyone Feels The Sorrow

Last night at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York, the evening started like any other Saturday night race on dirt. Drivers lined up, the Four Wide salute to fans was given, pictures were taken and shared all over social media.

On lap14 of the final segment of the nights racing event Kevin Ward Jr., a 20-year-old competitor and Tony Stewart, 3-Time Nascar Champion were fighting for the same line on the track. The final segment consisted of 25laps on the 1/2mile dirt track.

Coming around turn 2 Tony’s #14 car on the inside of the corner, and Kevin’s #13 Sprint Car on the outside got into each other. Kevin ran up the track and hit the wall, not unusual and not a bad wreck. (read more from Jeff Gluck’s USAToday report).

Kevin obviously felt Tony ran him off the track on purpose. He unbuckles his safety belts and gets out of his car. Like many drivers before him, he wanted to make his displeasure known to Tony. Emotions are flying high in situations like this. In all series of racing, drivers wait for their adversary to come by their position again to wave an angry finger, yell and express their frustrations. We’ve seen crashed drivers remove their helmet and throw it at the offending driver’s car as they drove by. And that’s basically what started the incident on Saturday night, August 9th, 2014.

But last night, that raw emotion went to far. A Young Driver was upset, let his anger control his actions and threw away his judgement.  I can’t count how many times I’ve written about that on my spiritual blog, or talked about it in Sunday Sermons, in counseling sessions with clients and in conversations in general. Allowing your anger to control your actions can bring about unintended and unwanted consequences. In this case that anger took over a young man’s reactions and it was displayed in poor judgement that paid the ultimate price.

This morning on ESPN, veteran race car driver,  Ricky Craven  said it better than I can, but I’ll have to paraphrase here: The young man allowed his emotions get the best of him. He got out of the safety of his car and made the choice to walk down the track in front of on coming race traffic.

Kevin Ward was inches away from the 1st car that past him on the track. When Tony came by, Ward moved further down the track and at the last tenths of a second as the #14 went by he appears to rush the car and was hit. Even though the track was under caution, you’re talking about cars still traveling at speeds between 30 to 55mph depending on the size and shape of the dirt track. Kevin was wearing his helmet, even though several “witnesses at the track” said he had removed the helmet when he exited the car.

Update 08.10 from the 3pm Sheriff’s Press Conference Update: Police investigation has indicated the #14 car was traveling between 30-35mph.  Reported via Twitter:

The sheriff said they are looking at everything of impact of track surface to lighting. Said estimates Stewart car going 30-35 mph. – Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) August 10, 2014

A video of the incident was shared on YouTube (I won’t share the link). However, I can’t be critical of people who are sharing the link or watching the video, as long as they are using more than that fan recording to understand and judge the situation. I watched it last night when it first became available online. I needed to see what happened for myself. What both drivers went through and to try to understand how this kind of tragedy could occur. There are three aspects of the event that stand out for me. This is only me; you’ll have to make your own judgement if you decide to watch.

  1. Kevin Ward got out of his car in a section of the track that isn’t well lit, while wearing a black fire suit and walked down the embankment of the track to confront Tony. (Update 08.10 3pm Press Conference; Police Investigation confirms the poor lighting and uniform color are a factor in the investigation.
    Reported via Twitter:
    #NASCAR …Ontario Co Sheriff Philip Povero notes that where Stewart incident took place was “dimly lit” & notes dark uniform of Ward. #AskMRN – Dustin Long (@dustinlong) August 10, 2014
  2. As Tony approaches, at the very last second, Ward seems to rush forward slightly to point and yell as the #14. Playing the video frame by frame it does appear that Tony turned the wheels on his Sprint Car to the left (to move away from Ward).
  3. As Ward rushed forward at the final moments it appears he gets too close, and is struck by the #14, falls under the tires and ultimately losing his life.

Perhaps it was the poor lighting on that section of track that distorted the depth perception of Kevin and maybe even Tony. No one knows exactly how the incident occurred in those few 10ths of a second, except those directly involved. A view that was echoed by Kasey Kahne this morning in an interview with Marty Smith from ESPN. You can see the comments Kasey made on Marty’s Facebook page.

The details of how it happened are being investigated by the Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s office. Not because someone thinks something was criminal; but because it’s required in most states in the U.S. when a death occurs through an altercation of any kind. A similar investigation also took place in June 2014 when Jason Leffler was killed in an on track accident in New Jersey.  (Jason Leffler Killed In Sprint Car Accident).

Sheriff Philip C. Povero provided the first official and confirmed statements of the night in a press conference in the early hours of Sunday morning. “This is an ongoing investigation of an on-track crash,” Povero said and announced that a driver was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead on arrival. “Next is continuing interviews, a continued evaluation of evidence we have, including video, and there is certainly going to be an evaluation of medical evidence when it is collected from the autopsy,” he added.

The Sheriff also wanted to be clear about the status of this investigation, “There are no criminal charges pending at this time. … We are not making any inferences of any criminal conduct at all.” He also stressed that Tony had been cooperative in the investigation. Adding “He [Tony] was visibly shaken by this incident and promised his continuing cooperation of this investigation,” the sheriff said. You can see the entire press conference at: Sheriff Philip Povero Press Conference. – You might also listen to the reports questions, especially the one who asked “Has this happened before at this track?” Sadly the Sheriff replies “Yes… a couple of years ago”

Also see what’s been posted of the 3pm Update Press Conference. Still hoping someone will post the entire 3pm presser soon.

Race reporters shared bits and pieces of that conference. One of the most important things the Sheriff said:
“There are no criminal charges pending at this time,” Sheriff Philip Povero said in the news conference broadcast on ESPNews. “We have reviewed the investigation to this point with the Ontario County district attorney. As we speak at this time, there is no evidence in hand or no facts that would support a criminal charge or support criminal intent on the part of anybody.” ~ You can read more of what the Sheriff said from Bob Pockrass on Sporting News.

Now a family is living without a son. A local race community is living without one of its favorite drivers. The entire race community from every racing series is mourning and honoring the life of a fellow racer who held the same passion for a sport they all love. Fans, true fans, are subdued and sending thoughts and prayers to everyone involved.

And a very kind and good man is living with a heavy heart over the part he played in a tragedy that was not of his own making. A bad choice of a young man who shared his frustration and anger on a race track. For family, friends and fellow competitors at last nights race, the rest of their lives have been changed by a tragic accident that can’t be changed today. But it hits hardest in the two families directly involved in the incident.

Last night Tony announced through a spokesperson that he would race in today’s Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen. But it’s important to remember that last night he was probably in shock and extremely overwhelmed by what had occurred.

Marty Smith also shared that thought on ESPN this morning in the pre-race coverage for the Sprint Cup race. Adding that after some sleep and the shock had worn off, Tony could think with a little clearer head. Everyone is making note that he shouldn’t race in honor of Kevin Ward. And I’m sure that’s a big part of the thoughts Tony had in making his decision this morning.

I agree with Marty, but I also think his mental state of mind and the sadness he is carrying in his heart over this tragic accident also played a big part in that decision. And no one can blame him for that. Tony made the decision not to race today, the SHR contingent agreed and a call was put out to Regan Smith in Charlotte to hop on a plane and head to New York. You can watch Greg Zipadelli’s press conference for the SHR Announcement on Nascar.com.

On Sunday Afternoon, Tony released a statement that was shared by Marty Smith on his FB page:
TONY STEWART STATEMENT RE: INCIDENT WITH KEVIN WARD, JR ->
There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. It’s a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I’ve decided not to participate in today’s race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.” ~ Marty Smith on FB

My family and I, like so many others wish to express our sorrow, condolences and prayers to all of Kevin Ward Jr.’s family. And we want to extend our thoughts, prayers and love to my favorite person, Tony Stewart.

Please read more about Kevin Ward Jr. Remembered on Sporting News by Bob Pockrass

No one has said it better than ESPN analyst Dale Jarrett.
My conversation with Tony was just to let him know that he had many friends like myself and an entire community that was thinking about Tony, he’s in our thoughts and prayers, and we all love and support him. We all go through challenges in our life. We don’t know sometime why these challenges are put in front of us and face us, but that he had all of us to lean on in a most difficult time. … as a friend, wanting to let him know I am here if there is anything I can do.
(read his full comments: Dale Jarrett Talks With Tony Stewart).

All of Tony’s fans who love and care about him would offer the same sentiments. And we’d all extend a hand and help in any way we possibly can.

 

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One thought on “When Tragedy Strikes Racing

  1. I agree with everything you said Springwolf, and I too am saddened and praying for all involved. In watching the video it appears to me that Kevin was still moving toward Tony when the accident occurred, possibly running into the wing on the #14 and being knocked backwards and his lower body being caught by the rear tire. Even with speed, being hit by the wheel probably would not cause a fatal injury. The contact with the wing however, could have caused the fatality. In any event, it is a tragedy and only God knows why. But we can rest assured knowing the Kevin surely is in the hands of the Lord and in that we can take comfort. RIP Kevin and God bless his family and all involved.

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