Is John Wight the only person out there with any common sense?
In the wake of the tragedy that cost Kevin Ward Jr. his life last Saturday at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, and has probably changed the life of NASCAR driver Tony Stewart forever, Wight, who owns Brewerton and Fulton speedways, is the only one who has taken any direct action.
As everyone probably knows by now, Ward was killed when he was struck by Stewart’s sprint car during a caution period at Canandaigua Park last Saturday during an Empire Super Sprints tour race. Ward had crashed into the outside wall after contact with Sterwart’s car, and after Ward’s car came to a stop, he quickly exited his car and came out into the middle of the track, pointing an accusatory figure at Stewart as he came down the backstretch.
What happened next is speculation — I’ve watched the video, and it’s dark and grainy and doesn’t really show the point of impact. But what is certain is that Stewart’s car struck Ward, and he died from his injuries.
I’m not passing judgement on either driver. In a span of five seconds, a 20-year-old young man died and Stewart was thrust in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
But Wight is the only one who’s taken a stand. On Monday, Wight, who also owns the Gypsum Express Trucking team that includes Billy Decker, Pat Ward and Larry Wight, changed the procedural rules at his two speedways.
Effective immediately, “drivers are required to stay in their car in the event of an on-track incident. If a driver, for whatever reason, exits a car on the track during a caution period, the race will automatically be placed under a red flag and all cars will come to a complete stop. A driver may exit a car if requested by a safety crew member or if safety warrants in cases such as a fire. Drivers that exit a car without permission, for whatever reason, are subject to fine and/or suspension at the discretion of track management.”
Why haven’t the local tracks followed suit? Why hasn’t DIRTcar adopted a similiar policy? I hope it’s not because John Wight made the first move, and DIRT doesn’t want to look like it’s playing follow the leader.
I realize that Fonda, Lebanon Valley and Albany-Saratoga are all sanctioned by DIRT, and as a result, might think they can’t adopt their own procedural rules. But Lebanon Valley promoter Howie Commander has been cutting corners on DIRT rules for years, instituting what fans smilingly refer to as “Howie rules.” He should be setting the trend here, not waiting for someone to tell him what to do.
The change makes so much sense that it’s unbelievable that no one thought about putting it into effect before this. It’s sad that it took a death of a yooung driver to get at least one track owner to realize the safety of the drivers should be the top priority.
Ironically, the ESS makes its next stop at Brewerton tonight, and the circuit wants to honor Ward, who drove the black-and-orange No. 13, with an “Orange Out.”
“Race fans of the Brewerton Speedway. We are asking for your help,” said ESS official Dean Reynolds in a statement posted on the internet. “As you know, the Empire Super Sprint family lost one if [its] own this past weekend. In honor of Kevin Ward Jr., we ask you for a small favor. Each and every one wear Orange, shirts, pants, hats, anything you have. Let’s make this the biggest Orange Out dirt track racing has ever seen.”
Around the tracks
It was nice to see Cody Sargen get his first career victory at Devil’s Bowl Speedway last Friday night. The Greenfield Center driver, who is a graduate of Saratoga Springs High School, totally rebuilt his Bicknell chassis during the week after struggling through the first three months of the season.
Until the win, Sargen’s claim to fame was probably his incredible flip at Albany-Saratoga Speedway during 2009, which was his rookie season in the sportsman division, Still featured on Youtube, the video shows Sargen getting launched off the concrete wall on the inside of the front straightaway, sailing to the far reaches of turn one and then doing a half-dozen violent barrel rolls before the car came to a stop.
Sargen, who switched to asphalt racing at Albany-Saratoga in 2010 and struck with it when the track switched back to dirt two years later, had back-to-back runner-up finishes in the final two races of the 2011 season at Albany-Saratoga Speedway.
Nick Stone continued his best season ever Friday, driving to his 12th pro stock win of the season at Glen Ridge Motorsports Park. Stone, who is driving a chassis of his own design, also has four wins at Fonda and one at Albany-Saratoga.
Fonda Speedway fans were treated to one of the best modified features in year last Saturday, when Stewart Friesen held off Bobby Varin is a duel between the top two contenders for the modified point championship. Varin pulled up on victory lane after the feature and gave Friesen a thumbs-up, even though Friesen’s victory might have cost Varin the title.
Fonda will be crowning its champions Saturday on the annual Night of Features. The modifieds will be running Twin 22s as Frisen tries to lock up his third straight championship.
Varin has opened up a huge lead in his bid for a second straight modified title at Glen Ridge. The championship will be worth $5,000 to Varin and his Nelson Racing Team.
Albany-Saratoga will be holding a Night of Features (wonder where they got that idea?), as well as a meet-and-greet with drivers, tonight.