Tom Time Blog: This Is A Time For Prayer and Healing

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HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — Blog by Race Chaser Online Editor-in-Chief Tom Baker — Photo via the family of Kevin Ward Jr. — If there was ever a time in my life when I was more sincere about saying “Thank God It’s Friday” than yesterday, I cannot recall it.

I’ve cried enough in the last several days to last a lifetime.  I know I’m not alone.  We want answers, but have none. Sadly, no answer to any question is going to fix this.

Kevin Ward’s father and I raced karts against each other back in the day and became friends.  I never really knew Kevin, Jr. too well because he was young when I last saw him.

Although I haven’t seen or talked with them in several years, a friend I’ve made is a friend for life, at least in my dictionary, until I’m given reason to feel otherwise.

I have nothing but the highest respect for my friend, and it hurts me deeply to know that he’s lost his son.

I am not a friend of Tony Stewart’s.  I have met him, but that’s all.

I point that all out in the spirit of fair disclosure.

I have mutual friends who have shared with me a very different side of Tony than what’s being portrayed.  My personal impression of him in person would concur.  We all know he has a temper and has made some very wrong choices in the past out of anger and emotion.

None of that is proof of anything in this situation.

I am a person who believes in innocent until proven guilty.

What has made this week almost unbearable for those of us who know racing is the reaction that the non-racing media and other ignorant social media “experts” have had to this tragedy.  They either want Tony in prison; think Kevin was a (fill in the blank) or both.

Yet they know not.  None of them.  They should just be quiet.

Here are the facts.

There is an ongoing investigation being conducted in this case by the Ontario County Sheriff’s Department into an accident involving Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward that ultimately resulted in Kevin walking into the path of oncoming cars under the caution flag and Stewart’s car hitting him, resulting in Kevin’s death.

That’s all the “facts” we have so far about the incident.  Everything else is opinion, assumption or supposition.

Sadly, even if Tony spoke tomorrow and said that he was trying to avoid Kevin and that he’s totally broken over this, many would say he was lying because of those past wrong choices I spoke of earlier.  He will have no path to grace here.  That’s sad.

I am not defending Tony Stewart.  It’s just not my job to convict him, nor is it anyone else’s outside of the law.  The law has not done that so far.

I do have past experience with being on foot on a “hot” race track from working as the infield announcer at Oswego Speedway.  In that job, I was required to “announce” from the accident scene and give insight as to who was involved, how serious it was, etc.

I was told clearly not to jump off the safety truck unless I was given the OK by the safety crew and unless I could safely jump off between the truck and the wall away from the moving cars.

I was scared every single time I had to do that, out of sheer respect for the dangers of the situation I was putting myself in.

One wrong move and I could be hit.

It was my responsibility to make the right choices to keep myself safe, and to ask others to help me do that.  Wrong choices, regardless of the reasons behind them, could get me hurt or worse.

Even under yellow flag conditions the cars on a track are moving at speeds that often approach or exceed 40 mph.

These drivers today are strapped into their cars with safety equipment such as head and neck restraints that prevents the type of side to side motion that they had when I was doing that job 20 years ago.

Sprint car wings are large and appear to narrow the field of vision even further.  Those cars also steer with the throttle and with the wheels to the right.

I know that we can always control our thoughts at any given time.  Our attitudes come from our thoughts and determine our actions.  Our actions contribute to results.

When we are angry, we are not thinking clearly and we often do things that we wouldn’t be as likely to do when we’re calm.

Kevin Ward was angry.  I don’t blame Kevin Ward for being angry.  He thought he was wrecked by another driver.

I would have been angry if I thought that’s what happened to me.   He walked away from his car (where he was safe) onto the track (where he wasn’t).  I’ve read that this was the first time he’d ever done that.

I really, really wish he hadn’t.

Many drivers before him have done the same types of things and miraculously gotten away with it.  I don’t think that makes it a wise or OK choice, though.  It surely wasn’t this time.

It is fact that nobody else hit him before Tony.  It is fact that Chuck Hebing, the driver in front of Tony, said he barely saw Kevin in time to avoid him.

But neither of those facts can prove that Tony Stewart did or didn’t do anything wrong.

We can only assume one way or another.  Assumptions are not facts.

The law is investigating to determine whether Tony’s actions in this can be considered negligent or intentional.  That’s their job.  We need to let them do it.  None of us are qualified.

I am praying for their wisdom and discernment.

I am praying that this horrible situation teaches all of us to stop and think before we speak or act, in racing and in life.

It only takes one split-second choice, made with emotion, to alter lives forever.

I am praying for the Ward family, Tony Stewart, the staff at Canandaigua Motorsports Park and all who are involved.

This is a time for prayer and healing.

Let’s remember Kevin for the person he was and for the joy and spirit he brought to everyone he touched, and let’s let the law discuss and decide the rest.

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