Hard Times in a Hard World



Oftentimes, life has a way of being self-policing and self-punishing.

It’s like when a little kid sees a freshly baked batch of cookies on a hot oven tray and reaches out to grab one even though mommy and daddy already said no. In such a situation, no parent in their right mind is going to take the time to add a spanking to an already burnt hand. The child learned the lesson the hard way.

If you’ve followed sports news (or news in general for that matter) over the past 48 hours, then there is a good chance that you have heard about the famed race car driver, Tony Stewart, striking and killing a fellow driver with his race car. Moments before, the two drivers found themselves racing side-by-side, Stewart on the inside, Kevin Ward jr. on the outside. Coming off of the corner, Ward got squeezed into the wall, cut a tire, and came to a stop. The caution flag waved and Ward got out of his vehicle and waited for Stewart to come by in order to show his displeasure with his fellow racer. As Stewart drove by, his car hit and killed Ward.

The investigation is ongoing and while there are currently no criminal charges pending, many are suspecting and calling for Stewart to be charged with manslaughter or even accidental homicide.

Now, I’m not a lawyer so I don’t know much about the in’s and out’s of what qualifies as manslaughter. However, I am a racing fan and I can give you my perspective of what happened. Regrettably, I did watch video of the incident and I truly wish that I had not. (If you really want to see it, you can find it on YouTube but I will not post it here — viewer discretion advised.) I do not presume to know all the facts but from what I have read and seen, this is what I gather:

Some people question why Ward got out of his vehicle onto a track with moving race cars (even though they were under caution). Yet, this happens literally all the time in racing. In fact, it happened in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race just a few hours earlier and a couple of towns over from where the Stewart/Ward incident took place. Probably every race car driver has done that at one point or another. When you get wrecked, one way to show your displeasure is to wait for the field to come around the track and point at them to let them know you are unhappy (many drivers will wait and throw things at their competitors — like a helmet or their gloves). This happens all the time. Is it a wise decision to make? Probably not. But you cannot fault Ward for what happened.

Now, for Stewart. Some say that Stewart gunned the throttle right before he went by Ward (which might make him look more guilty). In a dirt sprint car, hitting the throttle causes the rear of the car to slide out to the right. It also causes dirt to fly up to that side of the vehicle. Now, Tony is undoubtedly a hothead with a well reported temper. It would not surprise me one bit if Stewart saw Ward standing there and he decided, as he went by,  to give his competitor a little mud-bath. Much like Ward’s move of getting out of his vehicle to show Stewart his displeasure, Stewart’s throttling up would have been just another way of nonverbal communication that is not uncommon in motorsports. I am not saying that is what Tony did — I wasn’t there. That is just possibly what happened based on what I’ve seen and read.

So, what we have here are two common, though probably unwise, maneuvers that resulted in absolute tragedy. Had Ward been a little bit further back or had Stewart timed his throttling a little differently, no one other than the fans there that night would have known what had happened; which would have just been another mild case of racers losing their tempers. Unfortunately, that is not the situation.

My heart mourns for the Ward family and I have been praying for them ever since I heard about what happened. At the end of the day, what we cannot lose sight of is that a young man has lost his life and there is a family who is mourning.

But I guarantee you, Tony Stewart is also mourning. What happened Saturday night changed his life forever and not in a good way. He was scheduled to run the NASCAR race yesterday — he backed out. That is hard move for a race car driver to make. And even though I have never been a fan of his, I can tell you that there is not a single person on this planet who loves racing more than Tony Stewart. He did not back out of that race (or any other future races) lightly. Some people see Stewart as a murderer who needs jail time as punishment for his crime. I see a man who is deeply wounded and doesn’t need to be kicked when he’s down.

See, some events in life are self policing. Who knows, maybe by the rule of law Tony Stewart did commit manslaughter. But don’t you think that the guilt that he is going to carry for the rest of his life is more than punishment enough? He will never be the same person he was before that race on Saturday night. He will always question everything about those moments and about himself.

Life is oftentimes self-punishing and the last thing that man needs right now is to be put on trial.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the Ward family. But I also pray for Tony Stewart and for justice to be served (which may mean leaving the legal system out of it).



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