It’s a well-known fact among NASCAR fans that NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, and former Cup Champion, Tony Stewart loves to compete.
That’s why he’s been a fixture on smaller dirt tracks outside of the NASCAR umbrella for years. Stewart has not only raced in sprint car races on dirt tracks across the country for years while also competing in the world of NASCAR, but he also owns his own dirt track.
After the heart-breaking accident in which Stewart’s car struck and killed a fellow driver, Kevin Ward Jr., during a dirt track event far removed from the sanctioning body of NASCAR a few questions come to mind.
The first is an obvious one. Should Stewart, or any NASCAR driver, be allowed to compete in local weekend hobby style racing? The second question is about driver safety. Do rules need to be put in place to keep drivers in their cars following a wreck?
These are two questions that lead to several more questions about sanctioning bodies, driver safety, and what role the “Big Boy” on the block in the form of NASCAR can play. Forget the fact that Stewart almost ended his own career last year in a dirt track wreck that took him out of his NASCAR ride for almost half a season. Here are a couple of thoughts on how these questions can be addressed.
When it comes to the first question about if Tony Stewart, or any other driver in NASCAR, should be barred from racing in local dirt track race the answer is really not as simple as saying “yes” or “no.” What many people outside of the sport do not realize is that teams and drivers in NASCAR, and really all forms of racing, are essentially contract labor.
First; NASCAR is sponsored by Sprint. It used to be Winston and Nextell. The type of car Stewart was racing is called a "sprint car." It has nothing to do with NASCAR or Sprint Cup Series racing. Think go-cart, stock car, dragster, sprint car, monster truck, as being different types of racing vehicles.
Drivers are not hired by NASCAR, or IndyCar, or ARCA to be a driver, drafted, and then assigned to a team or car. Each team is a stand-alone business that hires, or fires, drivers as they see fit. NASCAR does not hire any driver to race in any of it’s series. The same is true with other series.
What this means is that if Tony wants to race on a dirt track away from his duties as a team owner and driver then he’s free to do so. The only limitations would come from his personal desire to do so, any clauses in his contracts, or possibly rules from local dirt tracks that state who can drive and who can’t.
I can tell you this; If I owned a local dirt track and was struggling to sell tickets and heard that a NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion wanted to race one evening… I’m not saying “no,” I’m seeing ticket sales.
The answer right now is that if Stewart, or any driver, wants to jump into another car on any level then they are free to do so. Just like Tiger Woods is free to play a round of golf at any course he would like to. The only way to stop it would be if it was included in a contract between a driver and a team or even a team sponsor.
Rules on Exiting a Wreck Car
Strangely enough the rules on exiting a car is a blurry one. You would think that every racing series in the world, and every track from dirt to superspeedways would have a set policy on a driver exiting a wrecked car. In NASCAR the general rule of thumb is that drivers are in charge of their cars. If a wreck occurs then the driver should drop the window netting as an indication that everything is OK and wait for the emergency vehicles to arrive.
However, we constantly see drivers drop the net, hop out and lean against the car, walk to the wall, or even walk around the car evaluating damage. There’s really no firm or universal rule about exiting a wreck car. Every series and every track hold safety meetings with drivers and guidelines are covered. You can bet that’s going to change. It would be nice to see NASCAR, ARCA Racing, and IndyCar set the bar on firming up these rules that we all seemed to take for granted only a few days ago.
According to one report at least two dirt tracks in New York have already made rule changes. Brewerton Speedway and Fulton Speedway, both in New York, announced that drivers would be required to stay in their cars during an accident. "If a driver were to exit the car during a yellow, the race would be placed under a red flag, and the penalty could include a fine or suspension."