Tony Stewart fatal crash 8-9-2014

Don’t be too quick to judge Tony Stewart, let the experts do their jobs

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Editor’s note: NBCSports.com’s MotorSportsTalk writer Jerry Bonkowski has spent over 30 years as a sports writer, columnist and editor covering NASCAR and motorsports for USA Today, ESPN.com, Yahoo Sports and now MST. He also wrote this column from the unique perspective of having served more than 20 years as a fully-sworn, state-certified part-time police officer.

In the time span of just a few hours after a horrendous accident, Tony Stewart was charged, convicted and sentenced by many in the court of public opinion following Saturday’s fatal incident involving 20-year-old sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.

So-called “experts” inundated Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other forms of social media, carelessly, recklessly and without any type of evidence throwing around words such as “intentional” and “murder.”

Those are very damning words for an incident that on the surface is an accident until proven otherwise – if it can be proven otherwise, that is.

How can they be so sure that Stewart intentionally struck and ran over Ward, leading to his death, which was confirmed about an hour or so after the incident by Ontario County (N.Y.) sheriff Phillip Povero, according to multiple media reports?

Were those people at the small dirt track just about an hour northwest of Watkins Glen International, site of Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 NASCAR Sprint Cup race?

Even Povero told USA Today that Stewart was “fully cooperative” and that “the incident is not being investigated as a criminal matter.” If the investigating sheriff says it’s not a criminal matter or an intentional attack on the racetrack, how can so many people think otherwise? They base that opinion upon what they’ve heard or read or seen – and sometimes even that isn’t clear-cut enough to make such a serious value judgment as Stewart is being accused by so many.

To me, there are only a few undeniable facts that have emerged from the incident. Everything else is supposition, hyperbole and plain guessing:

* First, there was an on-track incident between Stewart and Ward. Based upon video that captured the incident, it appeared to be nothing more than a typical racing incident that happens hundreds of times each year on everything from Sprint Cup tracks to the smallest grassroots racing dirt tracks.

* Second, again, judging by the video, it appears the area where Stewart allegedly struck Ward was rather dimly lit, not unusual for short tracks such as that.

* Third, if investigating sheriff’s deputies believed Stewart did intentionally strike Ward, would he have been released from custody after fully cooperating with investigators?

* Fourth, do sane, normal and logically thinking individuals really believe a driver of Stewart’s caliber, who has done so much in his career, would throw it all away by intentionally hitting a mere kid on a tiny dirt track in the upstate New York hinterlands? Granted, Stewart has a temper – which has been seen countless times over his career – but would he completely lose control of his sense of right and wrong and go out and murder a kid that he had just spun in a racing incident? Just the thought of that is nothing short of ludicrous.

* Fifth, and this is perhaps the most important part of all: Ward got out of his spun race car. He walked down from the top of the racetrack and into the middle of, again, a dimly-lit area. This is where the true sense of speculation stems. Maybe Stewart didn’t see Ward. Maybe Stewart tried to avoid Ward and it was too late, again, partly due to the lighting in that area of the track and Ward walking down into the middle of the track dressed in a dark firesuit. As much as it pains me to say this, and I’m not attempting to be an “expert” about this event as it unfolded in any way, but what was Ward doing walking around in the middle of a racetrack with cars coming around still under power? That’d be like someone walking in the middle of a freeway to confront someone who he or she just had a fender-bender with. What did Ward try to accomplish by walking directly in front of Stewart, with the likely intent of shaking his fist or pointing a finger at the three-time Sprint Cup champ for spinning him only seconds earlier?

We can’t ever know.

This isn’t the first time a driver has killed someone – and I use the word “killed” in the sense that, yes, a fatality occurred as an end result, but not due to anything intentional on the driver’s part.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty struck and killed – again, I’m using that word in context that a death resulted, but it was not from an overt or intentional act upon Petty’s part – an 8-year-old boy during a drag race on Feb. 28, 1965 in Dallas, Ga.

Petty had temporarily left NASCAR racing that season in a dispute over the use of a new and potent 426 Hemi motor that the sanctioning body banned.

With NASCAR still a regional sport based in the Southeast, Petty moved to drag racing, which had caught fire in its Southern California birthplace a decade earlier and progressively moved east and grew into something that was arguably even bigger than NASCAR at the time.

Petty was in a race on that fateful day when something happened to his Plymouth Barracuda. Either something broke or he lost control – or both. Sadly, the end result was Petty’s car left the dragstrip racing surface and plowed into a crowd of fans, killing little Wayne Dye and injuring several other spectators.

After a long and thorough investigation, the accident was ruled just that, and Petty was not charged with any type of offense that stemmed from the crash.

But Petty has carried that memory with him for nearly 50 years. To this day, he still gets upset talking about it, and more often than not simply refuses to discuss it. Stewart is also going to carry the memory of what happened Saturday night with himself as well for the rest of his life.

For now, regardless of what all the “experts” say or media types looking to grab attention with a flashy headline insist, we know only two things for certain:

One, Tony Stewart was involved in an accident, and two, a young man died. Everything else is an unknown until a thorough and proper investigation is performed, no matter how long it takes to complete.

And when that investigation is completed, it will be by trained and REAL experts who will come to a rational and logical conclusion based upon facts and evidence – and not opinion.

As someone once told me many years ago when I first got into journalism, “Opinions without facts are like noses. They both can smell.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Handful of Indy 500 sponsor announcements made on Thursday

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It’s Cinco de Mayo and the sponsor announcements for the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil are flowing in a bit like margaritas will be later today around the country.

Get out your pen and paper, or laptop and spreadsheet, to add these names and figures to your entry list for the race. Because there’s a lot of companies and brands stepping up to the plate.

Four different teams have made sponsor announcements and here they are:

  • unnamed (1)Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (SPM) announced today that Lucas Oil and Jahia Solutions Group will co-sponsor the No. 77 SPM with Marotti Racing entry driven by Oriol Servia in the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Lucas Oil is a longtime SPM partner. “My number one aim was to make sure I was participating in the 100th Indy 500 with a team that could give me a car to contend for the win, and I have no doubt that Sam Schmidt and all his group at SPM will do exactly that,” Servia said in a release. “Being sponsored by Lucas Oil and Jahia are just the cherry on the cake and I couldn’t be happier to represent companies with such high standards. I can’t wait for May 29th to hopefully make them proud.”
  • unnamed (27)Royal Purple announced its sponsorship of the Ed Carpenter Racing team for the 2016 race season. The lubricant will adorn the engine cover of Carpenter’s No. 20 Chevrolet. Additionally, Royal Purple is launching the 2016 Royal Purple Indy 500 Sweepstakes, offering race fans the opportunity to win a one-of-a-kind Royal Purple racing helmet signed by Ed Carpenter. From May 5 – June 1, fans can enter the sweepstakes by completing the online entry form at http://www.RoyalPurple.com. Following the close of the sweepstakes’ entry period, one winner will be chosen at random to receive the grand prize.
  • BANDITRahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) announced today that Bandit Industries Inc., a premier global manufacturer of industrial wood chippers and wood processing equipment, will be an associate sponsor for the No. 16 Verizon IndyCar Series entry of reigning Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot in both events at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Pigot raced the season opener at St. Petersburg and is hopeful to run further races after the pair of events during the month of May.
  • contextdesignThe latest partner to adorn the No. 88 Dale Coyne/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing Honda driven by Bryan Clauson is Context Design, which was established in 1998 as a small, client-focused landscape architecture and land planning firm near Indianapolis, Indiana. Context’s award-winning site design studio is passionate about helping clients to create meaningful spaces and experiences that connect people to the land.

Wolff doubts Ferrari’s Sochi struggles will continue

SOCHI, RUSSIA - MAY 01: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Finland driving the (7) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track  during the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on May 1, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Mercedes Formula 1 chief Toto Wolff thinks that Ferrari’s lack of pace in last weekend’s Russian Grand Prix was specific to the Sochi Autodrom circuit and not a sign of things to come in 2016.

Ferrari entered 2016 hopeful of mounting a serious challenge to Mercedes after a strong showing in pre-season, only to struggle to keep up with the German marque in the first four races of the season.

The deficit was particularly worrying for Ferrari in Russia last weekend when Kimi Raikkonen finished as Ferrari’s lead driver but over 30 seconds down on race winner Nico Rosberg.

Talking to reporters after the race, Wolff refused to read too much into Ferrari’s pace, believing the deficit to be largely down to the nature of the track in Sochi.

“The track is very different with a very smooth surface, and we saw that the pace of many teams was different to the races before,” Wolff said.

“Williams was very strong, Red Bull weren’t, and Ferrari weren’t as good as expected. This is a circuit where you have to get it right in terms of mechanical grip and aerodynamic downforce – and engine power plays a role.

“I would say that the dent in the Ferrari performance is Sochi-specific. But that is only my guess.”

Mercedes’ advantage was perhaps even bigger than the 30-second gap between Rosberg and Raikkonen suggested, considering that the race winner was hindered by an issue on his power unit in the second half of the race.

Ferrari’s main problem so far this season has been with the reliability of its cars, as both Raikkonen and teammate Sebastian Vettel have hit trouble in the opening four races.

A James Hinchcliffe tattoo exists, and it is glorious (VIDEO)

AVONDALE, AZ - APRIL 02:  James Hinchcliffe of Canada, driver of the #5 Schmidt Peterson Motosports Honda IndyCar is introduced before the Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix International Raceway on April 2, 2016 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Only fitting that on Cinco de Mayo – 5/5 – we do a post about the driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in James Hinchcliffe.

And given Hinchcliffe’s proclivity for humour (the Canadian spelling is intentional here), we thought it appropriate to show off this gem of an advert produced by Honda Canada.

Apparently such a thing as a James Hinchcliffe tattoo exists, and it’s featured within the ad.

Hinchcliffe rocks up in a new 2016 Honda Civic Coupe. Problem is, the superfan played by Hinchcliffe’s countryman and Canadian actor Justin G Landry has the right tattoo, but no longer the right car to match his racing hero.

You can see the full video below, as well as a couple tweets to go along with it:

RGR Sport by Morand keen to build on debut WEC victory in Spa

Car # 43 / RGR SPORT BY MORAND / MEX / Ligier JS P2 - Nissan / Ricardo Gonzalez (MEX) / Filipe Albuquerque (PRT) / Bruno Senna (BRA) - WEC 6 Hours of Silverstone - Silverstone Circuit - Towcester, Northamptonshire - UK
© FIA WEC
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After claiming an impressive victory in its debut FIA World Endurance Championship race at Silverstone three weeks ago, the RGR Sport by Morand team heads to this weekend’s 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with high hopes of a repeat result.

RGR Sport by Morand became the first Mexican team to enter the WEC earlier this year when it entered the LMP2 class, signing ex-Formula 1 driver Bruno Senna and former Audi racer Filipe Albuquerque to race alongside team owner Ricardo Gonzalez.

The iconic Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps plays host to its annual six-hour race this Saturday, and with the addition of the no. 38 G-Drive entry, the LMP2 class is now up to 12 cars, the biggest on the grid.

However, Gonzalez is unconcerned, instead relishing the challenge of racing at such a famous circuit as he bids to make it two wins from two races.

“Spa has always been one of my favorite tracks so to go there with our own team is going to be great,” Gonzalez said.

“We’re coming in off a win and as the championship leaders so it’s important to carry the momentum forward.

“The team has done a lot of work back at the shop to give us an even better car for Spa, so there’s no reason why we can’t go out and fight for another win.”

Senna hopes to follow in the footsteps of his uncle this weekend by claiming a first win at Spa. Ayrton Senna won the Belgian Grand Prix five times in F1, including four-in-a-row for McLaren between 1988 and 1991.

“After great success during the team’s first race at the 6 Hours of Silverstone, I’m looking even more forward to racing with Ricardo and Filipe and the RGR Sport by Morand team,” Senna said.

“Nothing has changed in terms of our approach for this weekend in Spa, but efforts have not been spared since Silverstone and lots of analysis and developments are ongoing to make sure we keep improving and get more competitive as the championship progresses.

“Spa is one of my favorite tracks and I’ve qualified on pole and front-row there many times, but I’m still yet to win it. Will push very hard for it!”

The 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps takes place on Saturday May 7.