Tragedy Involving Tony Stewart Should Be Massive Wake Up Call To All Short Track Racers And Track Operators

Shawn Monahan on track at the Waterford Speedbowl Saturday night after being spun out of the lead in the SK Modified feature (Photo: Howie Hodge)

Shawn Monahan going after Keith Rocco’s car on track at the Waterford Speedbowl Saturday night after being spun out of the lead in the SK Modified feature (Photo: Howie Hodge)

Saturday night at the Waterford Speedbowl, Shawn 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.

After leading the first 34 laps of the SK Modified feature at Waterford Saturday night, a bump from Keith Rocco sent Monahan spinning out of the lead in the final corner of the race.

Not surprisingly Monahan 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. Monahan 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.

Though unfortunately so many who have been around racing for decades have become, not surprisingly, absolutely desensitized to some of the every race dangers that exist each and every time massively powered mounds of precision designed metal called racecars take to the track.

Though what happened Saturday night at the Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park dirt track should serve as a massive wakeup call to all short track racers and track operators in this country.

The world of motorsports was shocked awake early Sunday morning by the news that Sprint Car driver Kevin Ward Jr. had been killed after getting hit by a car driven by three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart during an event at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

Video of the incident shows Ward getting spun after contact with Stewart during the race. Ward then exited his car and was gesturing toward Stewart’s car as Stewart approached the accident scene under caution, and then Stewart’s car struck Ward.

The sight of Ward stomping away from a wrecked racecar and putting himself in the line of cars pacing around the track is 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.

But today every short track in America should be rethinking exactly how they handle drivers on the track after accidents. What happened Saturday showed that there’s far too much on the line to let adrenalized drivers continue to do this.

No, nobody is saying that tracks should have officials tackling drivers on the track to stop them. Stopping the action from taking place should start with track officials making any sorts of clear action to even go near another car on the track while a field is pacing a penalty offense. Hit drivers where it hurts, by taking away their opportunity to race. Make it clear that any driver going near another car on the track during a race will face an automatic suspension. Tell a driver it’s cut and dried that he sits out for three weeks if he walks toward another car on the track and it’s guaranteed you stop almost all of it from happening.

There’s some that would say putting a stop to letting drivers display their anger toward other drivers on the track is going too far. That it would be sapping the theater fans loves.

Too bad. There’s too many things that can happen. What if Keith Rocco slammed the gas Saturday night to go around Monahan on the track and then Monahan unexpectedly moved in the direction of the car? What if another car came around Rocco without any knowledge of what was going on? The possibilities are endless.

If anything good can come out of Saturday night’s tragedy, hopefully those who race – from the top levels to grassroots – will see, understand and fully absorb that going after each other in anger during events can far too easily go tragically wrong in the blink of an eye.

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  1. THIS.

    Spot-on, Shawn. Call it the “Ward Rule”.

  2. Mike Twist says

    Well stated.

    There have been times through the years, where you and I haven’t seen eye to eye. This time, we sure as hell do. You are spot on.

    You’ve been on the forefront of this point all year long. Thank you for that. It’s an issue that has the potential to change or even destroy short track racing. A new mentality is overdue.

  3. Andy Boright says

    This isn’t the first time someone has gotten hit and killed by a race car on a race track. In fact it happened not all that long ago right here in New England at Claremont Speedway when a safety worker was struck and killed by a Mini Stock under yellow flag conditions.

    Was anything changed at any of the surrounding race tracks back then as a result?


    There is no one entity that controls or has some say in every race track in this country, so claiming this is some type of “watershed moment” for short track racing simply isn’t taking the reality of short tracks under consideration.

    Tracks can and do make rules that require drivers to stay with their cars, but for a variety of reasons, drivers don’t. They never have, and they never will.

    Eventually Tony Stewart’s poor decisions are going to cost him is Cup career, if it hasn’t already.

  4. Steve Proteau says

    Shawn, I couldn’t agree with you more. Spot on my friend.

  5. Why does Andy have to be negative sll the time? Shawn is spot on. There is NO reason to get out of your car till a wrecker or track crew shows up. NO excuses. Tony Stewart being a hot head had nothing to do with this. I say Stay in your car or be suspended from racing for a year regardless of the sanctioning body. The only exception is a fire or fuel leaking.

    I really hope this tragedy can be turned into a learning experience. Oddly enough Tony Stewart was someone who chucked a helmet at someone’s car recently and played to the fans. These drivers are role models and they need to understand that. It doesn’t matter what there name is. They all do stuff that they really should think twice about.

  6. Cheryl Perry says


  7. Anytime a driver is out of his car a red flag should be displayed prior to safety crew arrival. No driver should unbuckle or exit there car until safety personal direct them to do so. Stupidity caused tragedy.

  8. I agree with you Shawn,Lets also remember that each driver signs a waiver,there for weather he was in his car or not no 1 is resposible for his actions ,regardless of the outcome,Loss of life at anytime is not good at any race track.

  9. I felt tears rolling down my face as I watch the horrifying video. Being the girlfriend of a local CT race car driver, who, at times, has displayed the same time of frustration after and incident on the track, really hit me deeply how easily and senselessly many lives can be destroyed in a split second from rage taking over sensibility. Think before you act…I know our driver will.

  10. Jimmy Milo says

    It is going to be very interesting to see how this whole thing plays out. It’s far from over.

  11. I like the idea more of immediately throwing a red flag any time a driver exits his/her car. they could easily say they smelled gas or something. Get the cars stopped, and then if the exited driver approaches another car for confrontation, suspension for at least 4 weeks would be appropriate.

  12. warren lally says

    if a driver exits his vehicle the red flag should be displayed immediately!!!!.as for Stewart. there was no reason to “light em up” to avoid a confrontation..was he (Stewart) scared?.worried about getting punched with a helmet on??? we probably know why the deceased exited his vehicle…big dollar /outsider cup guy got into me .. felt he had been wrecked (seemed like a typical dirt track deal to me)… both parties wrong except one is dead…both are responsible….I guess if I was Stewart I would have said “sorry you were outside of me and I didn`t see ya …(that`s how I viewed it). let me offer some help to fix your car.,…..that didn`t happen …as for Monahan.. yeah he got dumped but his outrageous behavior that he has shown many times before should ban him from the track.. he is a hypocrite of the worst order… god bless Shawn !!!! …I guess he thinks Jesus would have thrown his steering wheel too…. track made the right call this time with it !!! excuse the pun ….

  13. The only acceptable reason to exit a vehicle on the track before the safety workers arrive is the need to avoid something like a fire.

    Shawn – I think any suspensions should be more severe. In addition to placing themselves at risk, they place safety workers at risk. Furthermore, they risk changing another driver’s life. If Stewart tried his best to avoid him, he is a victim as well.

  14. seekonk fan says

    I really don’t think this is going to end well for Tony Stewart.

  15. Thanks Shawn for this fine article.. been thinking about this all day – happens all the time, from your local short track all the way up to the “bigs”.. just like dumping the leader has become accepted and endorsed by Nascar AND the booth, so has showing your anger – from throwing helmets (Tony), to punching, to vulgarity on the network – anything to hook the viewer. The last 20 years us fans and (most importantly) young aspiring racers have been watching weekly as drivers exit their racecar and go after the guy who they think dumped them.. as disturbing as this is and my heart goes out to ALL involved – honestly, this isn’t shocking that this happened.

    I find it absolutely absurd that the network experts and analysts are so dumfounded as to how something this tragic could possibly occur.. it’s been a tragedy waiting to happen, and nobody has done squat to prevent it…

  16. Crazy in NY says

    Smoke is a joke and not a funny one. Go check out YouTube. There is a whole channel
    dedicated to Tony’s meltdowns which include exiting his car and throwing his helmet (which Kevin Ward did not do). It happens ( I’m not saying it should) but anybody who asks why it happens doesn’t understand racing. I’m sure it happens every weekend somewhere in this country but not ending like it did Saturday in upstate NY. Now we can
    drag NASCAR into this with all the right things being said and hand wringing for the
    media while we “celebrate” what a great success Bowman/ Gray is selling their freak
    show to the History channel. Makes me want to vomit.

    You may remember the Morgillo/ Christopher deal from the Blastoff Weekend in 2013
    or reference what happened between Monahan /Rocco the other night but the difference
    is Teddy and Keith didn’t move their cars when the “storm” arrived. Tony’s car is clearly
    under power as he approached Ward and to me he has to answer for that. He won’t though he’s too good for the sport. A sport that won’t last if this kind of thing stands.

  17. Never mind short track racers, operators, promoters or owners NASCAR should step up to the plate and put the rule or sanctions in place for all racers top to bottom. After all the give the licenses out and take everyone’s money

  18. NASCAR doesn’t have oversight of all tracks in the country, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt if NASCAR would put a rule like this into effect immediately. It may make the local tracks follow suit.

  19. Bill Richards says

    The Stewart incident was a very dangerous situation. Those cars are a whole different animal. Direct drive so there is no simply pushing in the clutch and coming to a stop. I raced with The Sprint Cars of New England for a few seasons and there is chaos even during cautions. Visibility is limited especially at night. I found the initial push off out of the pits to be very stressful there are push trucks and 4 wheelers everywhere some cars running some being pushed. I’m surprised more people are not hurt just then alone.

  20. Absolutely right Shawn, thanks for making sense at a tragic time. LD71

  21. Rule # 1….STAY in your Race Car, till the safety crew gets there, unless on fire.

  22. Watch the video… Watch it carefully… Look how dim the video is, now look how dim the shadows are on track of Kevin Ward. Now think back to the 2005 Aarons 312 that was almost shortened by darkness and ended at almost 8:30 at night! Remember all the commentators saying that it was really a lot darker than it looked on TV. The same thing is possibly why the video looks a little lighter. I have friends who have been to this track and commented to me yesterday about how dark this track is especially in the turn 2 area where this incident occurred…

    How many of you have seen cars in front of you swerve around something that you could not see on the highway and then BAM you hit it because you had minimal reaction time? I know I have, and am sure many of us have. It is very likely that due to the Black suit worn by Ward, the darkness of the corner and the other cars blocking his vision, Tony simply may not have seen Kevin Ward until it was too late. I feel personally that this was a very unfortunate perfect storm of circumstances.

    To those saying it was “red mist” and that Tony was mad at Kevin… Ummm… Excuse me? Why on earth would Tony be angry at Kevin? If you watch the video, they didn’t even make contact that we could see… Sure, Tony ran him up… But who hasn’t done that. You see it at a lot of tracks on a weekly basis. It’s a passing tactic we use to attempt to break the guy on the outsides momentum.

    To those saying he hit the throttle in attempt to clip him or toss dirt on him to intimidate him… Let’s think about something here… Sprint cars, turn on throttle… O_o WOW! These cars are set up with massive amounts of stagger to aid them in cornering under throttle in the corners… If in fact Tony did NOT see him until it was too late (which is the more logical scenario anyway), he may have attempted to turn the car quickly with the throttle to get the car to turn fast and avoid Kevin at the last second knowing the brakes on these cars have minimal effect at best and that if he jammed the brakes, he would have likely slid straight into Kevin.

    This is an unfortunate incident. Kevin should have NEVER exited his race car in anger as he did. No driver ever should. I have personally been concerned about an incident such as this and unfortunately because of a poor decision a very talented young driver is gone.

    RIP Kevin Ward Jr.

  23. Chastity Vega-Ortiz says

    Very sad incident, My boyfriend races & he shared how some of the drivers are very “high-strung” emotionally & have egos that impair their judgment…..which leads to some ” childish” like behavior. Such as getting out of the car & going after a moving racecar on the track…The sport is dangerous enough (my boyfriend broke his neck racing) there is no need to add more danger. To those who race…….it’s only a “sport” ……………you need to go home after to your family & loved ones…….so does everyone else who races…………Think before you act!

    Chastity Vega-Ortiz.

  24. Lets face it, since NASCAR said “let the boys have at it” this is what it is coming to. Now someone has to die just to prove just how stupid of an idea it really was. But just because bid bad NASCAR saya its OK I guess it is.

  25. darealgoodfella says

    Don’t see what Ward was upset about… Ward was on the outside, very high, nothing Stewart should have been concerned with at all. If Ward thought he was going to get around Stewart on the outside in the loose dirt, then that was a huge mistake. Ward needed to back out, he didn’t and drove into the wall. Ward had no reason to be upset with Stewart. Ward should have been pissed at himself for trying to drive through a wall. Then to try to make like he was victimized by Stewart was just another mistake.

    Like someone said earlier, when the car in front of you swerves quickly to avoid the deer, you then hit the deer. AND WHO EXPECTS A DEER TO BE COMING AFTER YOU? Stewart was behind another car, visibility obstructed, how could he see Ward? It is easy to say the car of Stewart hit Ward, but consider that Ward went pedestrian and as a pedestrian went after the car of Stewart. WHO EXPECTS A DEER TO BE COMING AFTER YOU? We’ve all seen the pedestrian driver go after the car, throw a helmet, kick the car, or punch the car. It has always been stupid, is still stupid, and will always be stupid.

    Since Stewart became an owner, he has changed dramatically. Even his post-race comments are very articulate. He knows the risks his behavior presents to his operations, and would not do anything to jeopardize that. I’m surprised that he is still involved in all this other racing outside the Sprint Cup that poses risk to himself and sponsors, such as his recent broken leg.

    Drivers apparently need a rule to protect themselves from themselves. Make them stay in the car until safety helps them out and escorts them directly to the ambulance, unless other imminent danger exists, such as fire. And when a driver goes pedestrian on his/her own, the red flag needs to be waved immediately. And if a pedestrian driver goes after a car, that pedestrian driver is out for the next several (5?) events with no chance of appeal, there shall be consequences including probation, escalating penalties, suspensions and licenses revoked for several races. This behavior cost a life, it has to be stopped. All sanctioning bodies need to act on this.

  26. darealgoodfella says

    This accident should be a wake up call to all sanctioning bodies. And their operations at all tracks should include rules to prevent drivers from going pedestrian.

  27. This is not a NASCAR problem!! It is a racing problem. Nascar and other organisations have allowed it to continue long after it should’ve been stomped out of racing. I will say it again. There is no reason other than a fire to be out of your car before safety crews arrive. The mind set has made the activity of showing your displeasure after a wreck on the track.. normal. I really feel bad this kid lost his life because of this, but if he stayed in his car or waited behind it, he would be alive today. I see this stuff at Stafford and more recently at Waterford. There is nothing your going to accomplish by getting out other than the instant gratification, and fan reaction. I woulld like to think racers will see this and stay put after a wreck but knowing the mentality I highly doubt this is the last time we will see it. If organizations make the penalty steep enough people will follow along, if they highly suggest it than it will continue.

  28. Mark Andrade says

    Role models? I don’t think so. Parents, brothers, sisters are role models not race car drivers. If you were involved in the sport, not a spectator. You would know this sport is very competitive and emotional. As with anything sometimes our emotions get the best of us. Until you have been in the middle of it, felt those emotions. Keep your dumb ass opinion to your self.

  29. For those of you who don’t know what role model means. From Wikipedia. Which had more detail than just a dictionary.

    A role model is a person whose behavior, example, or success is or can be emulated by others, especially by younger people.[1] The term “role model” is credited to sociologist Robert K. Merton, who coined the phrase during his career.[2][3] Merton hypothesized that individuals compare themselves with reference groups of people who occupy the social role to which the individual aspires.[4] An example being the way fans (oftentimes youth) will idolize and imitate professional athletes or entertainment artists. Although the term “role model” has been criticized as “outdated”,[5] the term and its associated responsibility remains prominent in the public consciousness as a commonly used phrase, and a “powerful presence” in the entertainment industry and media.

    Enough said. What ever level you are on kids emulate what they see and other people do.

  30. I’m not just a spectator just for your info. I have driven and will be back out racing next year. So take some of your own brilliant advise, and talk about things you know about. I’ve been taken out before, I’ve been pissed, but I’ve never gotten out my car and chased someone down. Maybe it’s me or maybe it’s just the intelligence you seem to lack. So before you call someone a dumass look in the mirror and see if your the type of people were talking about.

  31. darealgoodfella says

    Mark, emotions may be an explanation, but not an excuse for doing something incredibly wrong. A pedestrian going after a car is an example of emotions getting someone into trouble. Emotions like that were the cause, not an excuse.

  32. Holy crap I agree with darealgoodfella… The world must be coming to an end!!!

  33. How do I give a “thumbs up” for “Freds” replys? LOL I know you cant so I will say it here.Your spot on Fred

  34. darealgoodfella says

    Look, the NHL has clamped down pretty hard on fighting and other physical acts that have nothing to do with conducting the game, and hockey is much better. The speed, skill and timing really shows now. It always amazed me that a couple guys can slug it out on the ice, sit out a penalty for a few minutes and then go back on the ice. And there are rules specifically addressing the instigators of these incidents. The NBA and MLB have also attenuated this extracurricular activity. Admitting to letting emotions get the best of you is not a valid excuse for going into a rage. Actually, that’s admitting to the rage, assault, battery, attack, etc. If that happened on the street, police, lawyers and courts would be involved. Think about going to court and your excuse is that you let your emotions get the best of you, so you threw a brick through somebody’s windshield. You are going to be found guilty, not excused, and probably sent for psychiatric evaluation. I am still amazed that our civil laws do not apply to participants in sporting events. If a NASCAR driver can throw a helmet at a passing car, basketball players can brawl, baseball benches can empty into pig piles, everyone can do the same with no civil consequences. And we then wonder why people are so audacious, arrogant, and brazen, and think they can get away with anything? It’s because they see it happening all around them.

    I’ve played sports, plenty of hockey, I know what it means to compete, and never saw any value in the fighting. It doesn’t help score goals or prevent goals. And not too much made me feel better than scoring a goal after I was roughed up.

    Those that get out of their cars and while pedestrian assault a car put themselves in danger. That danger does not exist if a pedestrian driver does not assault a car.

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