There are unpopular angles in all sports. Nice guys, bad guys, gritty gym rats and flashy divas. All of them have various levels of success in their sport, and NASCAR is no different. Tony Stewart is certainly one of the good guys not only in personality, but in performance. But as was proven Monday in Southern Iowa, bad things all too often will happen to good people
To say Sprint Car racing is unsafe is ignorant. Stewart’s car is top-notch equipment, and the violent rolling nature in which Sprint Car crashes occur are commonplace. Southern Iowa Speedway is also a safer track with regards to Sprints than Bridgeport Speedway, where Jason Leffler was killed earlier this year.
“I’d be grateful if you guys would understand that what happened this week was not because somebody didn’t do something right with the racetrack. It was an accident.” In light of what happened with Stewart, the media has been critical and searching for any comments to enhance an angle. Stewart’s quotes this weekend were especially unfortunate since he once again had to defend his passion for dirt track racing.
Danger is commonplace in racing and always will be. But real “racers” continue to disappear and in the case of Dick Trickle, meet unfortunate ends. Tony Stewart is one of the last real racers left in NASCAR due to his down to earth mentality coupled with an aggressive snarl and ability to drive anything with wheels incredibly well. Danger simply means nothing to Tony Stewart.
It’s important to remember that later this year, Kurt Busch plans on running an Indy Car race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, where Denny Hamlin broke his back a few months ago. Dan Wheldon was killed less than two years ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway due to the nature of open-wheel racing that makes it so dangerous and yet appealing; an open cockpit. The open cockpit is also what nearly ended Formula 1 driver Felipe Massa’s career in 2009. The definition of the word accident itself explains not only why fans love the sport, but why drivers continue to tighten their belts every week in search of victory.
As the real racer continues to disappear, NASCAR will continue to transform for better or worse. The commercial success the sport has seen will only continue with the new TV contracts the sport has secured. That being said, future sponsors and team owners should be wary of what their drivers do as teams continue to become business over anything else.
Tony Stewart owns his own team. The privilege of such success is that since he is his own boss, he can race winged Sprints as much as he wants. Kyle Busch owns his own team and enjoys running, although it is usually still in a stock car. Joe Gibbs Racing has said nothing of Busch’s extracurricular activities, but stock cars are inherently safer than winged sprints.
Beginning with this crop of development drivers, including Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing’s only major name Kyle Larson, things must change. Larson was in the same race as Stewart, and had to take evasive action to avoid the incident that broke Stewart’s leg. The only thing that promotes progress in racing is death itself. That cannot continue. It will certainly be interesting to see if owners finally begin to reign their drivers in.
Follow Mike Guzman on Twitter @Mike486