On Saturday night, One of NASCAR's top drivers, Tony Stewart hit and killed another driver during a sprint car race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park in New York. There have been a a lot of videos and discussion spreading around the web, much from people who have only watched auto racing on T.V. As I'm probably the only person on this forum who has actually driven a race car or pulled a driver from an overturned race car I'd like to get my own two cents in.
Kevin Ward jr. killed himself. It's his fault alone. And that's the pretty near unanimous verdict of those of use who chase cars for fun or operate inside the racing community. Before every race day there is a mandatory drivers meeting of all the drivers and at least several of the stewards (chief, operating, safety, black flag etc.) At each one of those meetings the stewards will tell the drivers that if you crash, stay in the car! Inside a race car you are surrounded by the roll cage and bodywork and other things that are made of steel and more resistant to other cars than human flesh. You stay there, and stay belted in until someone like me comes and gets you. At that point the field will be under control, I'll have a wrecker between me and oncoming traffic and you can be removed safely. Maybe you're mad because you think you got knocked out because of someone else's stupidity, but you've been told and told repeatedly to stay in your fucking car!. So stay there and calm down. If you really think you've been wronged, tell the stewards, that's why they're at the track.
Kevin Ward jr. didn't listen to what he'd probably heard hundreds of time before. I got out of his car on a short, local track with limited lighting in a black driver's suit with a black helmet and instead of going over the wall (which we don't mind but is rarely possible on the outside of an oval) went directly toward traffic. And these are sprint cars, probably the most evil race cars this side of a Top Fuel Dragster. They have a thousand horsepower and the throttle is more an on/off switch than something tame and docile like a Dodge Viper. The wheelbase is shorter than a Ford Fiesta and the tube frame is so tight that bars block your view almost everywhere you look except straight ahead. In my race car, which had half the bars and a tenth the horsepower it's hard to see from the bars. Sprint cars are like driving in a Burqua only your head doesn't move so easily. You steer mostly with the throttle. Walking toward those things when they're moving doesn't make you a martyr, it makes you a candidate for a Darwin Award.
Racing is a blood sport. People die doing it. Those of us who spend our time on the hot side of the spectator fence know that some day Death my come to take his due. It's not like it was when I was a kid before improved equipment, track barriers and medical protection improved the odds, but racing is always about traveling and tremendous speed at the bare edge of adhesion. Shit happens, and it can happen to you. And it will happen if you do stupid stuff.
That's why we have rules and safety workers and why young drivers are told constantly to say in their fucking car.