|Tony Stewart signing autographs for fans.|
Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs
Those moments are over. Time is moving again. Kevin Ward Jr. has been laid to rest, while Tony Stewart remains under investigation. Most believe he will be cleared of any wrongdoing, but he still faces an uphill battle in the court of public opinion. Ward's family continues to grieve, and Stewart prepares to move on with his life, which will never be the same.
For the first time since Ward's death, Stewart will get behind the wheel of a racecar this weekend in Atlanta. Sunday will mark 22 days since the young man was killed in an on-track incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York — 22 days since we've seen or heard from Stewart and 22 days since Ward's family last spoke to him. Across multiple media outlets, both men have faced 22 days of persecution. Everyone has an opinion, even those who know nothing about racing. The video of the accident has been shown numerous times, and every Monday morning crew chief has had something to say about it.
Stewart's return is a surprise to some, and a welcome sight for many. He missed the last three Sprint Cup races, privately grieving the accident with only his closest circle around him. Many thought he would miss the rest of the season as he struggled to come to grips with the tragedy. Some argue that he shouldn't drive again this year, and others say he's been away too long.
But here's the thing, there's no rulebook on how to deal with tragedy. There's no outline for anger and grief. No one can tell another how to overcome guilt that may be eating away at them. We're human.
Yes, even Tony Stewart, one of the most polarizing figures in NASCAR, is human. He has the temper of a bear, but the heart of a saint. Unfortunately, it's his temper that has gotten most of the attention over the past three weeks. He drives the car with reckless abandon, giving his all every lap. He's angered when something cuts his race short. Racing is his job; he does what he can to be his best.
But isn't that how we all are?
In our jobs and lives we all must deal with grief and disappointment. Think about it. That person who was just passed over for a huge promotion probably won't have a smile on her face for the next few days. The family that just lost someone unexpectedly will undoubtedly grieve. But since most of us live our lives on a much smaller scale than Stewart, our grief and disappointment goes unnoticed to many. We deal with it, and we move on.
As I wrote in the hours that followed the accident and continue to believe, there are only two people who know what really happened on the racetrack on that Saturday night. Two people. Two souls, both forever changed. Two belief systems, shaken to the core.
As Stewart prepares to return to the track this weekend, it's time to let opinions and emotions go. They serve no good as a man forever changed prepares to make his way back to the sport he calls family. Whatever your opinion on the subject is, it doesn't matter. What matters now is getting back to normal.
The racing community will embrace Stewart as he returns to the track this weekend. The family he has created and that stands behind him will welcome him back into their circle. It's for the best. Racing is who he is; it defines him. Staying away too long will only make his heart hurt worse. He's suffered enough, and so has the Ward family. It's time to let both move forward.
We will never forget what happened to Kevin Ward Jr., and we shouldn't. A young man died doing what he loved. He had a long life ahead of him, and we will never get to see the promise that was. Stewart will have to live with his death forever, and if that isn't punishment enough, I don't know what is. It's time to embrace Stewart again as a racer and a human being. His human heart can't take too much more grief. We can only hope he finds peace amongst 42 other drivers, who all understand the emotional roller coaster that he rides every day — 42 other drivers who are his closest family.
Time is moving ahead, and it appears Stewart is ready to move with it.