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Irresponsible – Ignorant Sports Column Clouds Stewart Racing Tragedy

Canandaigua Raceway New York -site of sprint car death
Canandaigua Raceway New York -site of sprint car death (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

When you’re a sports writer or journalist, you’re supposed to know your field.  You’re also not supposed to use your column as a personal vendetta against a certain sport.  But apparently George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel has decided to descend to irresponsible status.

In his syndicated column, reprinted in the Tri-City Herald Monday,  he takes Tony Stewart to task, essentially blaming him with thinly veiled malice, for the tragic death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.

His piece, entitled Tragedy Should be Wake-Up Call for Stewart,    blames Stewart’s passion for racing for the death.  He even asks the question, “Why the hell is Tony Stewart still racing?”     He claims Stewart’s passion for racing outside of NASCAR is hurting him and clouding his judgement. (click on the highlighted title to read his comments).

Diaz ignorantly asks if Peyton Manning competes in the Arena Football League in the offseason because of his passion for football?  It’s obvious Mr. Diaz knows NOTHING about NASCAR, motorsports or driving.     That’s an ignorant comparison, that shows Mr. Diaz doesn’t understand the mentality of a race car driver.   Driving a race car has NOTHING in common with stick-and-ball sports.

Drivers will tell you they feel the most alive behind the wheel. The truly great ones were born to drive.    Look how long Jeff Gordon’s been doing it.   Despite the back pain and physical issues, he continues to have one of his best seasons ever!   Kyle Busch wins in everything he sits in, from the Camping World Truck Series to Nationwide and Cup.  Regardless whether it’s a go-kart, or a 3400-lb. Cup Car, these guys (and gals!-Danica) are competitive and passionate. Denny Hamlin,  Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and dozens of others have, or continue, to participate in “outside” races.  It’s often done for charitable causes.

My wife drove for several years at Tri-City Raceway.  I drove a time or two.  We’ve been “NASCAR” junkies for several decades, as have many of our friends.  It gets in your blood.  When our family has visited go-kart tracks on vacation,  we get jazzed up, and the adrenaline flows and while we have fun,  we drive as hard as we can – because we want to win.

Just because Stewart likes to race outside of NASCAR has NOTHING TO DO with this horrible tragedy.   IN fact,   most other drivers would do it to, but many of them have contracts that prohibit such outside racing, because the team owners and sponsors want to protect their investment from potential injury.   Yes, Stewart broke his leg a year ago racing in a sprint car.  But it was HIS choice.

Sadly,  and with NO disrespect to Mr. Ward or his family,  he died largely because he violated one of the #1 safety rules in motorsports:  He didn’t stay with his car.  Unless it’s on fire, they tell drivers, “drop the window net to let safety crews know you’re ok.”  STAY WITH YOUR CAR.    I’ve heard that told to local racers in driver’s meetings for years, at the old TCR, Hermiston Super Oval, Yakima, etc.

YES, we’ve seen many NASCAR drivers walk down the track and point at the person they believe dumped them.  We’ve seen helmet throwing.  Even drivers punch others through the window net on pit road.   But Mr. Ward was on a darkened, dimly lit track, wearing a black firesuit and helmet.  The car in front of Stewart had to swerve to miss him, and  Stewart hit him.  It’s a tragedy – plain and simple. ..and that’s why it’s so sad.  He unfortunately put himself in a precarious position, and it cost him his life.

Mr. Diaz, you’ve hopefully read the police reports and investigation data showing no evidence of criminal intent or even criminal negligence on Stewart’s part.

This has NOTHING to do with Stewart’s passion, or his desire to drive everything with a wheel.   But this story has everything to do with irresponsible, ignorant journalism.  Mr. Diaz,  we’re suggesting you spend a week with Kyle Busch,   Jeff Gordon,  Greg Biffle or even the racers who roar around Yakima, Wenatchee Super Oval, or Stateline Idaho and see what it means to have the passion of a driver.

Please do your homework, before you make an already tragic situation even worse.

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