Settle Down: Let New Smyrna Speedway Tragedy Be Lesson About Needless Violence At The Track

Over 26 years or so covering motorsports I’ve witnessed some awful things take place in the pitting areas at race tracks. 

I’ve seen plenty of people get injured unexpectedly from a laundry list of unexpected accidental events. 

I’ve also seen people suffer life-altering injuries in the pits. 

I’ve seen someone get killed in the pits. 

I also think most people that are around the sport for a long time grow somewhat numb to the danger that lurks at every moment at any race track. 

We’re not saying it’s like walking through a minefield, but being aware of your surroundings at all times while moving about is key. 

The reality of the world in general – and walking through the pits at a race track – is that accidents happen and they can’t be predicted. 

And then there’s a devastation waiting to happen that is always entirely avoidable. 

In my years covering motorsports one of my biggest fears has always been when I see a fight take place in the pits. I’ve always had a fear that I would witness someone getting killed because of a fight in the pits. 

And here’s the thing, I always have this feeling it’s not going to be the overheated instigators of a brawl that really get hurt. Rather it’s going to be someone watching. Or worse, someone not even watching, or even involved. 

I’ve witnessed two drivers squaring off morph into a mob scene of 20 people throwing punches in less than 20 seconds. And then watched that brawling mob wave among the tight quarters of a short track pit area and absorb whatever gets in the way like an avalanche swallowing unsuspecting skiers. 

See that’s my worry. Someone just standing there with no involvement gets knocked over, hits their head on the pavement, and they end up dead. And all because Johnny Donuts didn’t like that Billy Burnout gave him a brake check on the final lap of the Stacked Stock feature. 

Which brings us to the tragedy that took place over the weekend at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway after Saturday’s World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing features. 

Two camps of racers upset about a few nudges on the track end up brawling in the pits. A track official just looking to get things under control ends up in the mess of it all. Moments later someone is doing CPR on him. 

New Smyrna Speedway track official Rusty Crews ended up dead early Sunday morning in New Smyrna. The preliminary determination of the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office is that no criminal charges will be filed in regards to the death of Crews. A cardiac event was the preliminary determination for a cause of death. 

What will never be known is how being in the midst of the brawl physically affected Rusty Crews. Nobody knows. Would Rusty Crews have gone home that night if there wasn’t a fight? I think most would surmise he probably would have. Only some higher power truly knows. 

So how about everyone involved in short track racing let the whole awful affair be a lesson? 

Let it be a message that fighting in the pits – while it might seem like the most perfectly planned display of macho bravado – can get someone killed. 


  1. See that’s the far ranging perspective you’re only going to get from a trained observer. Most of our reactions are amusement. Not the the tragic brawl in this case that is the exception but more like the heated scuffles that are generally the rule.
    This is the obligatory article that has to we written with a lesson learned so check that box. Will anyone outside of the actual participants learn anything from it? There is zero chance that will happen. The way it works is tragedy, hand wringing, finger pointing, mixtures of sanctimony or fatalism then amnesia and it’s on to the next bout of bad judgment. Civil suits the greatest likelihood as has been mentioned. Learning not so much.
    The fact is this isn’t the outlier, the exception that a civilized society can observe in horror and learn from. Quite the opposite.
    I won’t be around but in twenty years or so people will look back at the year of the pandemic shake their heads and wonder what were they thinking. People dying in droves, fighting about race relations, left and right politics and some warped, self destructive interpretation of personal freedoms. All in a pandemic where civic responsibility takes a back seat to infringement of personal liberties. Using safety protocols not to find common ground as a means of self preservation but to instigate a brawl. Packed hospitals for some not important but packed races, rallies and social gatherings a symbol of individual freedoms as the body count accelerates.
    Fights at the races aren’t the exception. We’ve become a nation of hyped up race teams seeking to defend our turf looking for a brawl. Not only using trivial reasons to engage brawling but creating reasons to brawl if need be.

  2. Just more privileged, fragile, toxic, white males doing more white-on-white crime.

    Nothing to see here, move along.

    {For the idiots, that was major sarcasm.}

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