|Tony Stewart at Charlotte Motor Speedway, 2014.|
Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
Late Saturday night, tragedy touched the racing world in a very deep way. During a sprint car race being held at a dirt track in Canandaigua, New York, a young driver named Kevin Ward Jr. was killed. He was struck by three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart. Ward was just 20 years old.
If you've seen the video (which I hope you haven't, out of respect to both parties), then you may already be playing the blame game. The events unfolded so quickly, and it was such an intense moment that it's hard not to form an opinion. We want to side with someone.
Sadly, there is no side to take in this.
The two drivers made contact with each other during a race, Stewart's right rear touching the left front of Ward's car, sending Ward's car spinning into the wall. The caution was called, and Ward exited his car, walking down the track, fists angrily pointing at the car of Stewart. In the blink of an eye, Stewart's car approached Ward and seconds later the young man was lying on the track as safety officials and first responders rush to the scene. Ward was taken to a local hospital and pronounced dead on arrival, the Ontario County Sheriff's Department said. Stewart was questioned by authorities and released, being described as fully cooperative and very upset.
Stewart-Haas Racing's vice president of competition, Greg Zipadelli, said Stewart had decided not to compete in Sunday's race.
Stewart used his car as a weapon.
Ward should not have exited the car.
Stewart gunned the engine when he got to him.
Ward should have had a helmet on.
Stewart's career is over.
Ward should have known who he was dealing with.
I can't believe Stewart is going to race tomorrow (at Watkins Glen International Raceway, the site of this weekend's Sprint Cup Race).
Ward would still be alive if he had stayed in his vehicle.
The opinions go on and on, musings from people involved in motorsports and views from general news watchers. They're hard to read.
No good ending can come from the incident that happened tonight. Either way you flip the coin, someone's life will never be the same. Ward's family will not get to see him grow up. Stewart will forever have to live with the fact that he hit and killed a human being.
Trying to blame someone just makes the situation worse. A young man's life has ended. A veteran racer will live with the pain forever. Why it happened and who was at fault have no part in this story. Blame is a dangerous thing. It turns people against one another, and creates tension between everyone involved. It doesn't solve the problem, and it doesn't make what happened go away. Taking sides is irrelevant, because no matter whose side you're on, there's no happy ending to this story.
While the news out of Canandaigua is unfathomable, social media is making the situation worse by speculating about whose fault it was, and what should happen to Stewart. Saturday night's race was not a NASCAR-sanctioned event, so it is unlikely that they will be involved, and in fact said there was nothing precluding Stewart from driving. Stewart is said to already be back at Watkins Glen, and was reported to be very upset. The family of Kevin Ward Jr. has yet to make a statement. Stewart-Haas Racing (the four-car Sprint Cup team that Stewart holds ownership in), released a statement acknowledging what happened, and advised that they are attempting to sort through all the details while keeping Ward's family in their prayers.
As the investigation into the accident unfolds, it is going to be very hard for the public not to pass judgment on either party. But what we must remember is that above all, a young man tragically lost his life last night. It doesn't do anyone any good to speculate on the situation. It's unfair to both Stewart and Ward.
As the racing community prepares to deal with another loss of life, we must come together as one, and show the world just how powerful the motorsports family is. We are a community that supports each other, no matter the car that someone drives, or the amount of money behind their team. At the core of this community is a base of people who share a passion for motorsports. We respect each other and at the end of the day, we have each other's backs.
While what happened last night is a true tragedy, there are only two people that know the truth of what happened on that racetrack. Social media gives us the power to get news quickly, but it is also our biggest downfall, as many early reports are often unconfirmed. People form their opinions on the incident based off of statements that are not 100-percent fact, and from there the blame game ensues.
I can assure you that the blame game does no good here. If you want to be angry or upset or sad about the accident, that's fine. We are all entitled to our own reactions. But to try to figure out exactly who is to blame will drive us crazy. There is no one to blame. Two people reacted to a situation. The outcome of the reaction was not one that we expected, but one that we will grieve.
Let's not take sides here. Let's be the strong racing community that we are known for, and treat each other with respect over these next few weeks. Let's support the investigation, and at the end of the day let's remember that a life was lost.
Life is what matters most, life is valuable, precious, and as we were reminded tonight, too short. Today, we must move forward with our lives, as another family picks up the pieces. Let them grieve privately, and withhold your judgment of the young man and the veteran racer. Support them as they all try to heal. And overall, be kind to one another. You just don't know when the words you speak may be your last.
Godspeed, Kevin Ward Jr.