NASCAR superstar Tony Stewart should not be racing tonight in Atlanta. 22 days and three Sprint Cup races missed are simply not enough time and space away from a still-unexplained tragedy. Not when an ongoing investigation continues. Not when a life has been lost.
Setting aside the tragic death of Kevin Ward Jr. on August 9th, Stewart and his handlers made their first blunder by indicating in the aftermath that it would be ‘business as usual’ and that Stewart would race the next day. After a public outcry ensued, Stewart changed direction and opted instead to sit on the sidelines. And while he has indicated deep regret for what occurred, his statements since possess an unsettling theme: how the event has affected him.
“This has been one of the toughest tragedies I’ve ever had to deal with both personally and professionally,” he read from a statement at a press conference Friday. “(It)…is something that will definitely affect my life forever.” Among his unsurprising supporters (enablers?) has been Brett Frood, executive vice-president of Stewart-Hass Racing, who said: “(Stewart) being in a racing car right now is about him getting through what has been a very emotional two weeks, what his next step is in coping with this.”
What would I recommend if I were counseling Stewart? Stay on the sidelines. Give it time. Out of respect for Ward. To heal yourself. For how long? Until the investigation has officially been completed. Until he can meet with Ward’s family. Until they indicate they would support his return to the racetrack. In his defense, Stewart did reference during the press conference, by name, various members of Ward’s family and that we was, “everyday thinking about them and praying for them.” As well he should.
I hope Kevin Ward’s family can rebuild their lives and I do hope Tony Stewart the man and the racer survives this horrible event. But, beyond the remorse, he has to proceed with selflessness and respect. With helmet off and foot off the gas pedal, he needs to focus on doing the right thing and he needs to do it the right way.