In his NASCAR video conference this last Tuesday, Tony Stewart was asked about the danger involved with racing. One of the many things he said was “It really boils down to the basics of, it’s auto racing. Auto racing, football, hockey, they are all dangerous sports. But we all love to do it and the fans love to watch it.” As racing fans struggle to make sense of the recent deaths of racers Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli due to injuries sustained in on track incidents, it only makes sense that we, as fans, reflect on what we know and love about our sport as well as the level of danger and risk our favorite drivers deal with every time they race. These are the words of fellow Tony Stewart fan, MaryAnn Holtz, who agreed to share her thoughts with us here on BadGroove.com. Thanks MaryAnn— Amy
In the days following the horrific accident that took Dan Wheldon’s life, Tony Stewart has been true to his character by answering question after question honestly and thoughtfully. In short, saying racing is racing…drivers need to be responsible for what takes place behind the wheel…racing is safer than ever but there will always be an element of danger….
Now, we have all heard that Tony’s boyhood dream was to compete in the Indianapolis 500. But younger fans or NASCAR aficionados that didn’t follow Indy may not realize just how early in his IRL career Smoke was faced with the ultimate dangers of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In May 1996, rookie driver Stewart qualified second alongside his teammate Scott Brayton for Team Menard. The elder, experienced, successful Brayton and the smiling Rushville Rocket were thrilled to be taking on the famed 2 ½ miles they loved so much – at over 230 miles an hour!
Suddenly, during a Friday practice, a flat tire put Brayton’s backup car into the Turn 2 wall and he was gone. The young rookie’s friend, mentor, and teammate was…gone. Tony was moved to the pole position; fulfilling a lifelong dream; bringing him instant fame; and facing a roller coaster of emotions, I imagine.
A few short years later, while running the 2001 NASCAR’s Daytona 500, Smoke’s Home Depot #20 became airborne and flipped several times. Tony was being examined at the hospital and had no idea what had occurred on Turn 4 at the end of the race. Another driver was brought in – it was Dale, Sr. and it was bad, very bad. Smoke called his mom and asked her to pray for Dale. Another friend and mentor lost to the sport he loves.
So when asked if racing is dangerous, I expect the owner/driver of #14 would answer “Sure, always has been, always will be.” But then that’s why racers race and why fans love to watch them. To quote a fan on Twitter the night of Dan’s passing, “Sometimes we hate the sport we love so much.” And so we go on to cheer for our favorite driver as they tighten up those belts one more time and race on to the next checkered flag.
For more on the events of the 2001 Daytona 500, read this insightfully honest interview with Tony by Holly Cain, from AOLNews.com, Feb. 9, 2011.
MaryAnn Holtz can be found on twitter: @AzSmoke14fan