Local tracks rethinking policies after Ward tragedy

By Alexander Hider

August 14, 2014

Alex Hider


Some local dirt tracks are rethinking their driver policies after 3-time champion Tony Stewart’s car struck and killed a fellow driver this weekend during a sprint car race in New York.

According to reports, during a Saturday night race at Canadaigua Motorsports Park, Stewart and 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. got tangled while racing. After the cars made contact, Ward was sent into the outside wall, wrecking his car. With other cars still circling the track under caution, Ward approached Stewart’s car to confront him. Stewart’s car came into contact with Ward, killing him.

Before Saturday’s accident, most dirt tracks across the country had no policy regarding driver etiquette after a wreck, according to Brad McCown, owner of Atomic Speedway in Waverly.

“It’s unfortunate that a tragic accident has to happen before a lot of places put in a policy,” McCown said.

Atomic is just one of a number of racetracks across the country that will be adopting new rules to protect drivers of wrecked cars. Starting with its next event on Aug. 23, the track will implement a “no-tolerance” policy in regards to drivers leaving their cars after a crash.

“‘No-tolerance’ is no-tolerance for me,” McCown said. “Once we put this rule in place, you get out of your car, and you step towards another car, making gestures like that, then you’re done. You’ll be done for that evening, that’s for sure. No money, no points, no nothing.”

Not only will drivers be eliminated from competition for the rest of the night, McCown said he will seriously consider banning drivers from competing at Atomic Speedway in the future if they approach other cars while they’re racing.

“We’re not going to have an accident like that happen,” he said. “We’re not going to be the next place for that to happen at.”

McCown said he will look at each incident case-by-case. He acknowledges that drivers will need to exit their cars in case of fire and fuel leakage. He also knows that many drivers exit their cars after a wreck to let family and fans know they are alright. But, he understands that there is a line that should not be crossed.

“It’s OK to maybe exit your car, but stay by your car,” he said. “There’s no need for a man to run down on the track with cars idling around. Not only did (Ward) exit the car, but then he took off towards the other cars.”

Most experienced sprint car drivers understand the dangers that come with venturing away from a wrecked vehicle. That’s why Portsmouth Raceway Park will not be updating its safety policies, according to promoter Donna Rayburn.

“We are not looking at changing anything, simply because it’s always been an unwritten rule: You don’t get out of the car unless there’s fire or something imminent,” she said. “We feel like it’s implemented and followed, and we don’t see the need to update it because of this.”

Rayburn added that PRP has never disciplined a driver for leaving a car during a wreck simply because the track hasn’t needed too. However, she would not rule out the track taking disciplinary measures against a driver if such a situation were to arise in the future.

“It’s definitely a possibility,” she said. “We just have not had any instances where it’s had to be implemented. The racers at PRP know to follow the rules. They’re good at following the rules, and they stay in that car unless there is a horrible accident or a possibility of fire.

“We feel like it’s implemented and followed, and we don’t see the need to update it because of this.”

Rayburn added that in the 24-year history of the park, there have been no fatalities on the racetrack.

“We hope it stays that way too,” she said. “We’re always safety concerned.”

Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter