Saturday, Oct 01

Don’t be so Quick to Judge Tony Stewart

Wednesday, Aug 13 3689

Don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s a good saying, right?

Tony Stewart is being judged, and being judged by people who don’t understand who this man is. The main stream media, along with users on social media, have violated Stewart’s past after an accident in Upstate New York which evidently killed Kevin Ward Jr.

Although no charges are pending, the media continues to report that he should go to jail, albeit no crime was actually committed. If you go on a search and engine – type in “Tony Stewart” and watch what happens. You will be slammed with utterly disrespectful headlines that are utterly despicable.

Publications are enabled writers to discuss the incident, but they have absolutely no prior knowledge of NASCAR, or motorsports in general. The Washington Post published an article on Monday evening entitled “A culture of road rage, not Tony Stewart, is to blame for death of Kevin Ward Jr.” This wasn’t the only incident in which Stewart’s prior history was being use to distinguish the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion as an evil, senseless and brutal murderer.

Some have questioned the safety of NASCAR, even though the incident had nothing to do with the sanctioning body other than one of those involved is one of the most well-known drivers in the sport. On her show, Nancy Grace used a picture (not video) of Stewart’s car hitting a crew member of David Reutimann’s pit crew several years ago – accusing the driver of having a history of hitting people. Reporters like this do not have any prior knowledge of the week-to-week on-goings of the world of NASCAR.

You cannot judge someone on their past. As many of my readers know, I am a Conservative Jewish citizen. I go to Synagogue on a weekly basis, and try my best to be a good person. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, but it is tough to do so when the main stream media is putting out statements telling the general public that a man should be convicted of a crime that really was just a series of unfortunate events.

The outcome of this tragic accident, and that’s all it was – an accident – could harm the sport’s reputations. With these reporters blaming NASCAR, there might be a rule change that forces drivers to stay in a car until medical crews arrive. But what difference does that make? Most drivers already wait for the crews, and then if they are mad – they throw a helmet or give an interesting gesture to the competitor that they are angry at. That is the problem with the modern era of motorsports.

If you have a problem, don’t settle it on the track. Walking out of a car in NASCAR isn’t as dangerous as it is in a sprint car. There are spotters in NASCAR, plenty of lighting on the track along with a wider range of vision. At a local dirt track or even your usual short track with Legends cars, Late Models, Modifieds, etc, the amount of vision a driver has is extremely limited. A few tracks have already modified their rules for drivers that get out of their cars before safety crews arrive, yet how can one prevent someone from getting out of a car when they are hotter than a pizza in an oven?

But the reaction on social media has an abundance of support for Stewart. He is clearly going through a difficult time, and he’s going to need time to heal and let his conscience take care of things.

I went on Twitter the other evening. I saw some people saying harsh things about him, but others were rather caring. In response to these two polar opposite view points, I posted a Tweet asking people to message me their responses to the situation. Here are some of the responses I received:

“My point of view is similar to Kasey Kahne’s,” Christian E. said. “None of it made sense to me. Like why would he walk right into oncoming traffic – putting himself at risk.”

But that wasn’t all people had to say about the incident.

“As a media member myself, I think it has been abysmal,” said Steven Ellis, who owns his a hockey website and has reported about NASCAR in the past. “When a non-sports media team gets involved with a sporting accident, the truth never seems to come out. For example, according to one publication in Canada, Kevin Ward died at a Sprint Cup event at Watkins Glen. Is that the truth? Most certainly not. Also, Tony has been painted as a bad guy due to his history, with CBS going as far as saying Tony threated to run over Matt Kenseth in 2012 when, in context, meant he was going to spin him out.”

Moving forward, Stewart’s reputation will be on the line. According to reports, his sponsors have not been reconsidering their partnership with his organization. With no charges impending, the only thing in terms of legal matters which he will have to deal with is a possible law suit. However, that will be a battle of insurance companies more than anything.

Local short tracks are known not to have the best insurance programs. When I cover local racing at Riverhead Raceway in Long Island, New York, multiple drivers do the same thing that Ward did. Why wouldn’t they? No one actually thinks they would get killed doing that. They just want to blow off some steam. However, one driver at Riverhead was injured in a go-kart accident. Her arm was severely injured, but the insurance company only covers a small amount of her treatment.

There are so many questions that remain, and we might not know the answers to them yet, but we will sooner rather than later.

Stewart owns Macon Speedway, a dirt track in Illinois, with fellow racers Kenny Wallace and Ken Schrader, along with Bob Sargent. His ownership stake could be impacted by this event, but that could be unlikely depending on what his reputation will be once the entire buzz slows down. Even with the media making him look bad, Stewart’s peers are there for him if he needs it, and it showed on social media over the weekend.

“I have been racing on dirt tracks for 10 years all over the United States and Canada and this year I have raced more than 60 dirt races,” Wallace posted on Facebook. “About once a month I see drivers do the exact same thing Kevin Ward Jr did. They get out of the race car after a wreck and walk "ON" the race track surface while cars are still going in circles to confront the car and driver they had the wreck with. I have always thought it was dangerous. After I watched the video of the accident "Over and Over" it was clear to me that the racing industry needs to come together and stop the driver from walking on the race track while cars are still going around at a good rate of speed. I blame no one and the blame game is not a good road to travel. This accident was a "Cautionary Tale" that happens every week at all race tracks around the world and now needs to be banned.”

Stewart has yet to make a decision on whether or not he will race this weekend at Michigan International Speedway. If he does race, the media will be swarming him and could cause him to be a distraction to himself, his team and competitors. However, the sooner he gets to the track – the faster the chaos surrounding him will come to a close. 

Joseph Wolkin

Joseph Wolkin (@JosephNASCAR) is a sophomore at the Queensborough Community College as an English major. He’s a native of Whitestone, NY, just outside of New York City, and has been attempting to find roots of motorsports within his area since 2004. He started out as just a fan, but over the course of his high school career, he ended up falling in love with writing.

Joseph has been covering NASCAR since 2011 for several different websites. Recently, he was named as one of two lead NASCAR columnists for Rant Sports after working for the site for over one year. Working with Rant Sports for approximately 14 months, Joseph has covered New York City area sports teams such as the New York Giants, New York Mets, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and more.

Through his passion is for NASCAR, Joseph has adapted to changing times and realizes that he has numerous opportunities in the journalism work. As one of the top young sports writers, his goal is to become one of the top motorsports writers of this new digital media era. However, he also believes that it’s important to stick to the traditional routers of print publications after seeing his high school newspaper dissolve due to a lack of funding.

Currently, besides his duties with Speedway Digest, Joseph is a columnist with Fronstretch.com, Motorsport.com and has a weekly article in NASCAR Pole Position's digital version - ROAR! Weekly Race Preview Magazine. 

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