Tragedy Sparks Rule Change

Canandaigua Motorsports Park

The death of Kevin Ward Jr. last weekend at Canandaigua Motorsports Park has spurred some short tracks to bar drivers from leaving their car after an accident. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tracks across the country are barring drivers from exiting their car after an accident to prevent a repeat of last weekend’s tragedy at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

Kevin Ward Jr., 20, died after he was struck by Tony Stewart’s car during a Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprints race.

Ward climbed out of his car after bouncing off the wall, walked down the track and gestured toward Stewart’s car before he was hit.

Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip Pover said Tuesday that the investigation into the incident is expected to take “at least another two weeks.’’ Povero also said that officials continue to seek witnesses, gather evidence and develop a crash reconstruction. 

What Ward did has become common in auto racing. Only a few hours earlier, JJ Yeley walked on to the track at Watkins Glen International to show his displeasure with Trevor Bayne during a Nationwide race. In some cases, drivers have thrown their helmet or other equipment at the offending car when it drove by. 

Short tracks are starting to react to such actions, and NASCAR is reviewing its policy on the subject.

Tri-City Speedway in Granite City, Ill., Kingsport (Tenn.) Speedway, Lonesome Pine Raceway in Coeburn, Va, Lawton (Okla.) Speedway, Fulton (N.Y.) Speedway and Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, Texas, are among tracks that have created rules about when drivers can exit their car after an incident.

Brewerton (N.Y.) Speedway, which hosts the first Empire Super Sprints race since Ward was killed, issued a bulletin Monday stating that “drivers are required to stay in their car in the event of an on-track incident.’’ A driver disobeying the rule is subject to fine and/or suspension.

Dean Reynolds, vice president of the Empire Super Sprints Series, told Motor Racing Network that series officials were working on a similar rule before last weekend and will discuss the matter at a board meeting this week.

Karen Tunnell, general manager at Kingsport Speedway and Lonesome Pine Raceway said those tracks enacted a new rule this week where a driver must stay in their car after an incident unless the vehicle is on fire or upside down. Once out, the driver will be escorted across the track by security or track personnel.

“I know the emotions are high and the frustration level is high and the first thing you want to do is get out of your car and shake your finger or throw your helmet,’’ Tunnell said. “We have to keep safety as the top concern. I guess it kind of fell to the wayside until this incident this weekend, and I would say there are a lot of track promoters that feel exactly the same way I do.’’

Kevin Gundaker, owner of Tri-City Speedway, said he instituted a similar rule. Gundaker said drivers are not allowed to exit their car - unless it is emergency - until told they can by a track official or emergency personnel. Failure to do so will lead to the driver being disqualified for the remainder of the evening’s event.

“I know some of the guys are uneasy about it,’’ Gundaker said of competitors. “When they crash, they want to get out of the racecar, which I understand perfectly, but the other side is we don’t need them out in the middle of traffic either.’’

Former NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski can relate to drivers not wanting to be stuck in their car after a crash. Last year, after contact with Kyle Busch caused Keselowski to crash in a Nationwide race at Kansas Speedway, Keselowski crossed the track and pit road pointing at Busch’s pit crew. He continued to run down pit road as cars were drove by.

Keselowski questions the effectiveness of any rule forcing a driver to stay in the car after an incident.

“Whether it's racing or society, I'm not aware of any rule or law that works without the ability to enforce it,’’ he said. “I don't know how you can enforce a rule like that unless you had a robot on the track to grab the person and put them back in the car.

“The only way you can enforce it is with a penalty system afterwards. Really at that point it's not effective. It's a difficult rule to try to make work.’’

Track officials say they’ll make it work.

“We’ve got to do,’’ Tunnell said, “what we can to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.’’

 

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