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Yes, Tony Stewart did run over a fellow driver who was killed, but you need to understand the entire situation.
Author: Charly Cropp, a Sprint Car Driver from Menomonie, WI
photo: Whitesel
photo: Whitesel
August 11th 2014 - I offer my thoughts and prayers to the Kevin Ward Jr. Family, The Empire Super Sprints Organization, and with Tony Stewart.  I can't imagine what is going through Tony's mind, or the sorrow the Ward Family is experiencing.  I am horrified by the comments I read on the news articles, and I would like to explain this tragedy from a Sprint car owner and driver's perspective:

  When witnessing a sprint car moving around the track prior to a race you will notice the front tires bouncing erratically side to side.  The erratic movement is caused by the alignment of the front wheel being nearly parallel to each other (compared to a minimal toe in or toe out on standard automobile), and the quick ratio of the steering gear to steering wheel movement (allowing a driver to quickly counter steer when traveling sideways around a corner at 100+MPH).

  Secondly trying to harness a 700HP engine at idle is nearly as intense as driving at full speed.  These engines are violent in their behaviors and extremely explosive to the smallest "twitch" of the throttle.   The throttle is controlled by your foot/ankle movements strapped to a lever directly fastened to the engine.  Idle to full throttle is about 4" maximum movement.

Sprint cars are setup to steer left, but turn right.  This may be confusing, but the dynamics of a sprint car cause it to be more stable at higher speeds.  The engine is directly linked to the rear tires, there is no clutch, no transmission, resulting in no stopping with the engine running and in gear, and also violent movements again when the throttle is twitched.

There is only a brake on the left front tire, and the solid rear axle, causing the car to lurch leftward when applying the brake, and requiring a slight steer to the right when moving slowly to keep the car going straight.  While at racing speeds the sprint car's suspension is under load, the dynamics of the wind on the wing panels, and the rear stagger (difference in diameter of the rear tires) all react with each other in these amazing machines to enable them to be some of the fastest in the Dirt Motorsports Industry, but all these factors also mean that even for someone as experienced as Tony Stewart the car is going to jump around at low speeds.

  When piloting a sprint car during a caution flag speeds here are the typical run down of a driver:
1. Grab a tear off (plastic covering over your shield removed when covered with dirt/mud)
2. Open your shield to cool down and wipe your eyes of dirt.
3. Move your top wing backward on the chassis for more drive on the restart
4. Stretch your fingers/hands from gripping the wheel so intensely while at race speed
5. Double check gauges to verify within appropriate operating constraints
6. Find your spot and the car you should be restarting behind
7. All while harnessing an erratic, explosive, violently idling engine, usually with one hand!

 One of the other difficulties with piloting a sprint car is the extremely limited visibility.  When comparing to a Nascar Car, a Dirt Modified, or even your daily driver with an 8 ft. wide by 3 ft tall windshield or opening to view out of, a sprint car is limited to an opening of approximately 24in by 8in.  To multiply the problem is a wing panel to the right that protrudes below your line of sight blocking all vision on the right side of the car, and a nose wing directly in your line of sight in front.  Then when factoring in the safety equipment of a full containment seat (supports on both sides of seat for your helmet), a HANS device (safety device strapping helmet back to seat not allowing a whiplash effect) the drivers field of vision is even further limited.  To better understand the limited visibility I invite you to take a box from a 24 pack of soda.  Cut a circle on the side of the box, and open one end.  Put your head in the circle and look out the open end of the box.  This will simulate the limited visibility of piloting a sprint car.

  Now that you understand some of the basics and the difficulties of piloting a sprint car, I want you to revisit the tragic events that played out on Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.  An angry young driver named Kevin Ward climbed out of his wrecked sprint car and trotted down into oncoming, direct drive, erratic, violent sprint cars, to confront Tony Stewart.  Put yourself in Tony's vantage point, remembering the checklist of items he was going through: tear off, 
wing location, stretching hands, wiping eyes, etc, all while following the bumper of the car in front of him harnessing the violent engine lurking to take off, looking through the "24pk box" field of vision. The track is black and not well lit Stewart is not expecting someone to be in the middle of the track and sees him at the last moment, jabs the brake causing the front of the car to turn left, and twitches the gas to turn the rear of the car to avoid Mr. Ward. (I'm not certain Stewart accelerated. The motor revving in the video seems much closer to the grandstand where the camera was filming and not across the track where the tragedy occurred. Listening to the video, the sound is too close to the camera position to be Stewart in my opinion) No one knows what really happened.  I've watched YouTube.  It was dark.  Ward was wearing a black uniform. My suspicion is that, if Stewart sped up, it was a reflex action.  All of a sudden, his eyes caught the approach of someone running toward him, and he just tried to get away, but Ward was too close. The right-rear tire caught him. 

  Our human nature results us in needing to assign blame.   I have read on social media and news sights comments such as: "Stewart used his car as a weapon," "Ward should have known who he was dealing with." "Nascar Driver Tony Stewart Strikes and Kills opponent with sprint car after argument," "Stewart is a murderer," "Stewart to jail," etc, etc.  All of which are completely belligerent and uncalled for.  Trying to place blame only makes the situation worse.   A young man is dead, and a veteran racer will live with this pain for the rest of his life.  I compare this incident to a tragedy a couple years ago in Western WI.   A man pulled over on the side of the Interstate, exited his car, and jumped in front of a Semi.  Obviously the man who jumped in front of the truck is "to blame" for that instance, and the tragedy that took place on the race track on Saturday night is no different.  Ward chose to exit his race car, and would still be alive if he had stayed in his vehicle, but that is the only blame we can assign. Trying to figure out exactly who is to blame past that point is undeterminable.  There is no blame to assign, it was an accident, with two people's reactions at play, and the outcome was unfortunately deadly.  

  If there is a lesson to be learned, or a positive outcome from this horrible accident, I hope every track speaks of this at every driver's meeting prior to racing.  I hope nationally broadcasted racing will stop sensationalizing the fact that exiting your race car and throwing your helmet is acceptable.  I hope that in the heat of the moment of competition competitors stop and think it is only a race, only a football game, and there will be another week to come back and prove yourself to be better than your competition.  Live life to your utmost ability, but remember it is precious and sometimes too short as we were reminded of last Saturday night.   

  God speed Mr. Ward, and I hope to see Mr. Stewart continue his racing career and support grass roots racing.