As some local tracks begin to react to Saturday night’s Tony Stewart/Kevin Ward Jr. incident by mandating rules to keep drivers in their cars under caution until safety crews arrive, it’s easy to wonder if NASCAR will eventually do the same for its own respective series.
The 20-year-old Ward was struck by the oncoming car of Stewart after he crashed, exited from his vehicle, and walked down the racing surface to apparently confront the Sprint Cup superstar. Ward was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital.
Former Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski – who himself got out of his car and ran across the infield grass after crashing in last October’s Nationwide Series race at Kansas Speedway – said he was glad to not be in NASCAR’s position regarding a potential rule change.
He also wondered how effective a rule about keeping the drivers in their cars would be.
“Whether it’s racing or society, I’m not aware of any rule or law that works without the ability to enforce it,” he said today in a NASCAR teleconference. “I don’t know how you can enforce a rule like that unless you had a robot on the track to grab the person and put them back in the car.
“The only way you can enforce it is with a penalty system afterwards. Really, at that point it’s not effective. It’s a difficult rule to try to make work.”
But some tracks are trying to do just that.
Yesterday, two New York dirt tracks – Fulton Speedway and Brewerton Speedway – decreed that drivers can only get out of their cars under caution if told to do so by a safety worker or in other certain situations such as a fire. If a driver gets out of his/her car without permission, they now run the risk of fines or suspensions.
Since that particular announcement, other tracks including the Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Illinois and Tennessee’s Kingsport Speedway and Lonesome Pine Raceway have also said they’re changing their policies.
In regards to racing at the local level, Keselowski said that he does not usually take part in such races like the one Stewart was in Saturday night at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park, largely because of rules from his boss, Roger Penske. He also cited the potential of losing valuable sponsors if he were to get injured.
However, he didn’t believe that NASCAR should take a hard look at the matter of its big-name stars racing in these kinds of events.
Claiming that “there’s no one-size-fits-all program that really makes sense for this,” Keselowski added that every driver has their own interests away from the NASCAR world and how important they are to them.
“Those interests vary between one guy might want to go run sprint [cars] like Tony, another might want to run late model [cars] like Kyle Busch – who knows, maybe it’s a dune buggy,” he said. “I’ve heard some guys doing that. [Former Nationwide Series driver] Travis Pastrana went base jumping one week last year.
“That’s what makes us who we are. That’s what makes us tick. The racing grind can really wear down on you. You have to do certain things that work for you in your life to make you happy to keep you going, to keep you at a very high level with your own happiness.
“It’s difficult to try and limit anyone to those things. That’s not just a racer, that would be any employer. So, I don’t see coming in and stopping those things. I think every situation’s different.”
Keselowski also touched on Saturday’s tragedy and the level of interest around it from fans and media, stressing that now was the time to “let the dust settle for a little bit and let some cooler heads prevail.”
“Right now, I don’t even think everybody has all the facts,” he said. “I think we have to get to that level first. For me personally – have some respect to the family, get through their process, then kind of dig into the hows, whys, whats, how we can possibly prevent something like that happening in the future.”
Ward will be laid to rest on Thursday in New York. Stewart did not compete in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup event at Watkins Glen, and his status for this weekend’s race at Michigan is unknown.