by Ryan Isley
Don’t judge a book by its cover. It’s a saying we hear all the time, yet hardly practice. It is so simple, yet so complex. But those few words would have made this past week with the Tony Stewart saga so much easier to handle and decipher.
It all started last Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park when Stewart was involved in an accident and subsequent death of Kevin Ward, Jr. I saw and received multiple tweets in the days after the incident that simply said “He killed a man.” Not that Stewart was involved in an accident where a man lost his life and that an investigation was ongoing. But just “he killed a man.”
Where to even begin with this statement?
Actually, we will start here: to say that Tony Stewart killed a man and just leave it at that is ignorant, at best. It was the fool’s way out of trying to learn anything about what actually happened. Instead of gathering facts and waiting until the police were able to investigate the incident, people wanted to take the easy route and just accuse Stewart of killing a man on purpose on the racetrack.
There are many layers to this story that need to be removed one by one, starting with the video. While there wasn’t any evidence that this was a malicious act by Stewart, that didn’t stop some from saying they saw things on the video that were proof positive Stewart hit Ward on purpose. Anyone who has said these things have shown that they have no concept of how sprint cars operate, especially on dirt tracks.
Unfortunately, people are like parrots sometimes when it comes to things of which they are ignorant. And when that happens, they begin repeating what they hear on the news or see on social media, no matter how accurate the source might be. This is where a lot of the misinformation was formed and then passed along. Once the ball of misinformation began going down the hill, it just kept gaining momentum and was impossible to stop.
It wasn’t just the actual accident and video that caused a stir, however. When it was originally announced that Stewart would still drive in the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen last Sunday instead of sitting the race out, social media exploded. Some demanded answers from Stewart-Haas Racing, NASCAR and Stewart himself. Some of the tension was relieved when Stewart-Haas Racing Vice President of Competition (and Stewart’s former crew chief) Greg Zipadelli announced Stewart would be sitting the race out and would be replaced by Regan Smith.
Some people were not bothered by Stewart’s original intent to race on Sunday, myself included. After all, if the police in Canandaigua were not going to hold Stewart and there was no glaring evidence of malicious intent, it meant he was free to race.
One of the reasons I was supportive of Stewart’s intention to race was because that is what he does. A lot of times, inside the car is the only place the driver can truly get away from whatever is going on in life. A sanctuary, if you will. Another reason might come off as cold-hearted, but it is still an undeniable fact – the three-time Sprint Cup Series champion still needed a win to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup this season. This was not meant as any disrespect towards Ward or his family, but was just a seemingly harsh fact about the situation.
It was then announced on Thursday that Stewart would miss this weekend at Michigan International Speedway as well, skipping the Pure Michigan 400. By missing the race and not attempting to qualify, it means that Stewart is now ineligible for the Chase even should he win one of the final races before the field is set. Personally, I believe that Stewart making the decision to not only miss this week’s race but also make himself no longer eligible to compete for the series championship speaks volumes about Tony Stewart as a person. That side of Stewart – the one who has real emotions and makes unselfish decisions such as this one – won’t play well into the popular narrative that Stewart is just a heartless son of a bitch who would willingly kill another driver.
Speaking of those people, one thing I have seen is that people are saying they believe Stewart did this intentionally because he has had a temper in the past and is thought of by many as one of the badasses of NASCAR. So because of Stewart’s reputation as somewhat of a badass, he is capable of a cold-blooded murder on the track? These are the kind of statements and inferences that have become extremely dangerous since last Saturday night.
Just because Stewart has had a temper at times does not make him a cold-blooded murderer. By making him out to be one based on a few outbursts, it would be reasonable that Kyle Busch or Danica Patrick could possibly kill someone on the track as well. That’s a slippery slope to go down – one that won’t end well for those who venture down it.
Nothing is as easy as it seems – or as easy as simple-minded people want to make it seem – when it comes to this past week with Stewart. If only there were enough respectable people with integrity who are willing to admit they aren’t as versed in racing as others might be. There is nothing wrong with not knowing something. But at least try to educate yourself before making these comments. Remember – it is better to let everyone think you are a fool than to open your mouth and prove people right.
Or better yet – ignore the cover of the book and open it up. You just might learn something.