(This is what originally came out of my pen when I sat down to pen my weekly race review. It wasn’t my usual race report so I kept this and wrote a usual race report which became Oral B 500: Back In The Saddle Again (Part 1) – Amy).
As I sit here, in a car wash of all places, scratching out the rough draft of my weekly race report, the song Back In The Saddle by Aerosmith is a constant refrain echoing against the walls of my skull and will not leave me. It echoes even louder and more constant then the golf tournament playing on the ancient television set turned up far too loud that needs two types of converters just to get the digital signal to the local station. I have effectively started and crossed out and then started over (because I am old school and use paper and pen most of the time- then convert my posts to digital) this post at least three times, all while waiting for my SUV to be be brought around from the back where the washing happens to the front where the hand detailing takes place, because I just can’t seem to get the post quite right. Because obviously I have more to say about the emotion of the race than I do the race itself.
Tony’s back in the #14 Bass Pro Chevy, he’s “back in the saddle again” (and yes the quoted part should be read with that raspy, sing/scream that Steven Tyler is famous for) and for the second time in a season I am both elated and worried at the concept of Tony back behind the wheel. I make no bones about it, I don’t pretend to hide any possible bias- I am not a journalist, I am a NASCAR fan- specifically a fan of Tony Stewart. I wear my fandom proudly on my sleeve, on my car and in my heart. I am a fan with a website and a will to write, with an outlet I use to talk about the sport I love and the driver I brand as mine. If you have read BadGroove for any length of time, that is perfectly clear.
Back in February I was both elated and worried about Tony getting behind the wheel again after he suffered a severely broken right leg. Was he physically ready? Was he pushing to hard? What if he got caught up in an accident? It was Daytona after all and I am pretty sure that for the whole month of February I held my breath. He had admitted himself that his leg wasn’t 100 percent healed and of course I worried immensely about re-injury, even after showing nearly right away in the duels that those stock cars I love to watch fling around the track at outrageous speeds are pretty damn safe. Tony Stewart may have been physically broken but he was on the mend and nothing was going to keep him from doing what he loved to do. Slowly I let that breath I had been holding as weeks turned into months and racing turned back into a beloved routine. Tony was back and I was back to worrying more about mechanical set ups beyond my comprehension then his leg, his health.
Then three weeks ago (what is it about the month of August I implore my fellow Smoke fans?) the unthinkable happened, the completely un-fucking-expected happened. A tragic incident, accident at a race track ended the life of a young racer and forever altered the life of one of the best race drivers in our era. A driver who’s life blood is motor oil yet whose heart is bigger than most. My driver.
His immediate reaction was to get into the car at Watkin’s Glen the Sunday following the accident, to surround himself with normalcy and routine but at the last minute after what was no doubt a very sleepless night- he understandably withdrew and then stayed withdrawn out of respect and out of need to pull away, to feel, to digest, to cope.
As Tony said, the sadness and pain is nothing that he would ever wish on anyone. There are no words that can make the pain go away, no words of comfort that can be spoken to the family of Kevin Ward Jr that will make everything “all better.” There is no “all better” no matter how much we hope that there can be. The same holds true for Tony Stewart- there are no words of solace or consolation that anyone can say that will give him peace of mind.
That said- this weekend Tony was back in the car and that familiar worry was back about whether or not he was ready. Is it too soon? Can disappointment on track only add to the pain he feels off-track. I can only hope not. The team had a great car at Atlanta, but the crappy luck was back as the 14 was collected and badly damaged when it got shoved into the wall by another car (and I will implore my fellow NASCAR fans with another question- what the hell is up with Kyle Busch lately) and despite a valiant effort by the team to keep Tony on track- the car later blew a tire and damaged the car further beyond repair.
What I hope Tony did draw from being at the track this week was more than just the comfort of the routine from sitting in the car and buckling himself in. Comfort from the shutting out the world so that all is left is the blur of the speed and an belief you are controlling what most deem uncontrollable. What I hope he found instead was the love, unspoken respect and reverence that was there at the track in aces: From his team and teammates. From his fellow drivers, and NASCAR officials. From his sponsors who came to not just show support silently but to announce it loudly with tenacity and steadfastness. From his “racing family.”
But that support, respect, and reverence was also there from the fans and I am not just talking Tony fans. It was there in a roaring ovation when introduced- filled with not just a sea of Tony Stewart fans but just race fans- 48, 88, 24, 78, 31, 43 the number didn’t matter at that point- just standing and showing support in grief is what mattered. Support that was left in little messages of love scrawled in marker on his pit wall. It’s the support from fans who showed it the only way they could throughout the last three weeks- through internet campaigns and banding together, all race fans, not just Stewart fans, to get topics to trend or to get masses of people to stand for the same two laps as the numbers of both Kevin and Tony’s cars (13 and 14). Support in the form of donations to his foundation to help make a difference in the lives of children and animals in need- causes near and dear to Tony’s heart. Support in the form of blog posts in little corners of the internet.
I am not a touchy-feely person- I never really have been. It’s just not who I am or how I express myself. Yet for the past three weeks I have wanted nothing more that to give Tony a big, tight, wordless hug. I do not know him, so I can not do this, at least not in the physical sense. But he can consider this a big virtual one.
I hope that Tony is able gather strength from the support that is all around him even if he doesn’t fully grasp the breadth and width of that support, or the why of it. Just that it’s there in the midst of the darkness of this tragedy like bear bond for his soul.