Racing, on all levels, has to make sure this can't happen again

Until further evidence surfaces, attempts to measure intent without sufficient evidence amounts to experimental mind reading.

And so while pseudo psychologists, breathless fans and other voices from the wilderness speculate about Tony Stewart's intent, here's a reminder about the only relevant headline stemming from sports' latest cause célèbre:

Kevin Ward Jr. is dead.

And this is what the racing community, from Waterford to Talladega, must address. The show mustn't go on. A man is dead. Because he got out of his car. On a busy track.

This is the issue.

This is the only issue.

Now I get how this works. Despite the burgeoning proliferation of opinions in this country, we still operate with a healthy disdain for common-denominator information, instead choosing whatever reinforces our predispositions. Hence, the folks who mock auto racing will find another reason. Advocates will become more proprietary about their sport, as if they're the only ones allowed to deliver an opinion on it.

Except that this is bigger than neophytes who mock the sport. This is bigger than the insiders who know their universal joints from their left axles.

Because a man is dead.

Auto racing must ensure the safety of its drivers by outlawing them from exiting their cars on the track, except in cases of imminent danger. Like if the car is on fire. Otherwise, it's automatic disqualification and future suspension. Period.

Local, regional and national officials can agree on a methodology. No leaving the car until the siren blows, indicating conditions are safe. Or an airhorn. Foghorn. Public address announcement. Smoke signals. Whatever. Whatever it takes so that a driver, whether through anger or showmanship, never, ever, ever imperils his or her life again by walking among oncoming traffic.

There's a reason you hold your kid's hand with the Texas Death Grip while crossing the street. Because traffic is dangerous.

I get that this is common practice in racing. As Shawn Courchesne, the state's preeminent racing writer wrote on his RaceDayCt blog, "(it's) hardly anything new to anybody that's been around racing for any time. It takes place from the highest levels of the sport right down to lowest entry levels of grassroots competition.

"The reality is, at most weekly track events, fans are likely to see it happen on some level probably at least every other week. … It's become so commonplace in motorsports that's its dramatic theater just seemingly taken for granted as part of the fabric of the sport. Just emotionally charged anger being allowed to flow."

Courchesne even alluded to a similar incident from last Saturday night at Waterford Speedbowl, maybe an hour or two before the tragedy in Canandaigua, N.Y. Driver Shawn Monahan was leading the first 34 laps of the SK Modified feature until a bump from Keith Rocco sent Monahan spinning.

Monahan, in Courchesne's words, "made the decision to show his displeasure for Rocco's act immediately following the incident, stepping in front of Rocco's car on the track during the cool down lap and slamming his hood with a steering wheel."

More Courchesne: "Monahan, like he has done for much of his racing career, played the racing showman that seemingly most any short track promoter in the country would want to entertain fans and pump up the emotion and passion of the product on display. … He then walked down the frontstretch, pumping up the fans, stirring a packed house at Waterford to fevered excitement. It was fueled dramatic theater at its best. And it was also pretty ridiculously dangerous."

Sure was. Which is why prudence must supersede showmanship. I get that it's part of racing. That it might sell tickets. It's also idiotic. And must be outlawed forthwith. It is a matter, quite literally, of life and death.

I don't know what Tony Stewart saw or didn't see. Felt or didn't feel. Neither does anybody else. I offer no opinions on Stewart's previous behavior. Because I know that if Kevin Ward Jr. stayed in his car, he'd be alive today, regardless of whether Stewart is a jerk or a Nobel Prize winner.

By outlawing the act, lives will be saved. Anything less is the most egregious example of institutional irresponsibility.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
twitter: @bcgenius


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