Sprint car racing, the show must go on
Now that it almost feels like the knee-jerk reactions and terrible reports from conventional media are dying down in relation to the Tony Stewart/Kevin Ward Jr. incident, I thought I would paint the picture of the last World of Outlaws event this past weekend.
Castrol Raceway is this tiny little dirt track in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada that is lucky enough to host the big show for two nights each year in August.
While in Western Canada racing isn’t exactly the most popular sport around, tonight feels different.
It is a Friday night, and the stands are absolteuly packed. Maybe about 2,000 people, but for a racing event in Canada, that is solid. Then it dawns on me. I have photographed this event for the past three years. I have never seen that many bums in seats at that track, or really ever at a racing event in Western Canada. I wonder…
The garage area is not much different. Sprint cars and giant trailers lined up towards the setting sun.
When I arrive, the first of two brief drivers meetings is underway. The gentleman with the mic is wearing his colorful World of Outlaws branded shirt while explaining various procedures for fuel samples and what sort of tire that will work best for the track. But then, almost as if he has been reading the same rules for the passed 25 years, he goes over a new one.
Driver’s must stay in their cars after an incident, unless there are extenuating circumstances surrounding the situation. Fire…mainly.
That one is new. No, I have not stood at many World of Outlaws drivers meetings, in fact I should admit this is my first. Knowing how the fallout from the Stewart incident hit, new rules immediately went up concerning drivers being on track during caution and it is no different here.
Then the tough part, I wanted to get someone from the traveling circus to talk about the situation.
However, not being a part of the conventional media, I knew I was walking on very thing ice just being media (albeit industry media) in their garage area.
The first, and what turned out to be the only driver I approached for a real comment was Jason Sides. His long hair and intense glare, and his successes, make me feel like he would be a good voice for the community. He is fueling his car when I approach him. I started out asking about the track. After all these guys are almost up against as big a battle with the track, as they are with other drivers.
Sides' explains to me how the groove moved up so high in packing and hot laps, that it just might be a one groove track tonight.
No questions tonight
Right then, I get a lump in my throat. Not because the brisk August night is getting to me, but I know I must change my subject matter very soon. You only get a moment with drivers who are busy. When I opened my mouth for the next question, a wish of good luck and a thanks for bringing their great series to Canada is what comes out. Nothing about Kevin Ward, nothing about Tony Stewart.
I am a member of the motorsports community, I am a photographer and a manager in the racing news industry. And just like the rest of the community, I am keeping my mouth shut until we hear something official.
There are only two voices that truly need to be heard right now, and that is the investigators (who have announced they are close to releasing their details) and Stewart. Every sprint car driver, NASCAR driver, or just run of the mill “I run a street stock on Saturday nights” person, at this point in this truly tragic saga know that more words or accusations isn’t helping anything.
Race tracks around the continent have made the necessary adjustments to their rules, sanctioning bodies are doing the same. Motorsports is dangerous, no matter the discipline. The danger factor goes up in sprint cars, and even higher when drivers are confront other drivers on track.
The incident was not within the World of Outlaw's series, but was connected. Both the sprint car racing communities in New York and all over the continent are mourning at the tragedy.
At the end of the day, the racing is going to go on, and that was evident by Tony Stewart Racing driver Donny Schatz dominating the evening.
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