Tony Stewart should be
welcomed back with open arms
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Tony Stewart stands in the garage area at Watkins Glen International. Stewart will miss this weekend's race at Michigan International Speedway.
Disclaimer: All opinions expressed are solely those of the writer
Usually, I don’t like reality television. I think it’s mostly scripted garbage. But in the first season of Shark Tank, a reality television show, I watched an episode where a guy created a nostril mask that went over someone’s nostrils, and blocked harmful toxins that may enter the body. The man went on to describe his product to the sharks, and explained that the pharmaceutical companies wouldn’t invest in his company because they could make more money treating the illnesses, not preventing them.
It didn’t sit well with me either, but that’s the business they’re in, and that’s how they make their money. That’s the way that I view the journalism we’ve seen lately covering the Tony Stewart situation.
We all know what happened with Stewart. The video is terrifying. ESPN actually brought on Stewart’s ex-girlfriend’s current fiancé to tell the audience that he thought Tony Stewart intentionally took out another competitor while on foot. It’s a crying shame that this situation has escalated the way it has.
I’ve been a race fan since I was 3-years-old. I remember the final race of the 1992 season, watching it with my mother (father being at the race), and watching Alan Kulwicki be crowned as the series champion. From that point forward I have missed very few races. I was hooked on the sport just a few years later.
Photo by Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images
Greg Zipadelli, competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing, addressed the media Sunday at Watkins Glen.
I remember Tony Stewart breaking into NASCAR. The partial schedules with Gibbs in Nationwide, before storming in during his rookie season in 1999 winning three times, and showing that he was as spectacular as we all thought he was going to be.
Then the early 2000s rolled in. We saw a different side of Tony Stewart. He pushed a camera man, had several on-track altercations, and had his sponsor, Home Depot, almost pulled off of Tony’s car. It was during that time that Tony Stewart rubbed a lot of fans the wrong way. Including myself.
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images
Regan Smith, Stewart's replacement Sunday, seen after a run-in with Jimmie Johnson at Watkins Glen. No word on if Smith will drive at Michigan this Sunday.
But as I grew older, and now writing as a journalist for this sport, you start to put your feelings aside, and seeing things for what they are. And what Tony Stewart is, is a racer. A human being. Sometimes we all have bad days. Don’t you?
Be honest with yourself. You’ve yelled at your spouse or sibling at times. No one is perfect. Yes, I would believe you if you told me that Tony Stewart turned down an autograph, and I would believe those yellow journalists if they said that Tony turned down an interview as well.
But here’s the situation. We’re journalists. Not pharmaceutical companies. We’re supposed to report the truth, and the truth is what happened with Tony Stewart, and Kevin Ward Jr. regardless of what others may tell you was just an accident; an unfortunate situation that could have happened to anyone else running in that race.
It’s a short, dirt track. Kevin Ward, Jr, in the middle of the night in a not very well lit racetrack, was wearing a black race suit, in front of a black race car, halfway down the racetrack, and Tony Stewart struck him. It’s an unfortunate situation.
When you’re driving, you lose your steering when you slam on the brakes. That’s why when you’re driving in snow, you let off the gas, and sometimes even you give it gas to get grip. That’s what we all need to do. Get a grip.
Since then, I’ve seen race fans, people that I have associated with my whole life, blame Tony Stewart. Calling him out for murder, and saying that Tony Stewart has a track record of violence, and that’s the reason why they think he did it.
Some fans had problems with Stewart not giving a statement right away. Put yourself in his shoes. This is a guy who is being investigated for a possible murder charge… Wouldn’t you want to go about things the right way? Wouldn’t you call your lawyer and ask what to say and how to go about this? If you wouldn’t, you’re lying to yourself.
Photo by Benjamin Palmer/TheRacingExperts.com
Stewart turns laps at Phoenix International Speedway.
Come on people! Come on race fans! I love you! I’ve stuck up for you my whole life. But I’m ashamed of what I’m seeing from you. You’re better than all of the other fans who don’t know racing who just want to comment on a popular story. You know how I know? I’ve been with you my whole life. Yes, in a knee-jerk reaction we all do silly things, remember Steve Bartman?
Steve Bartman, the infamous Chicago Cubs fan who reached out for a ball, in foul territory, and took it away from Cubs left fielder Moises Alou. The Cubs went on to blow the game, and lost the NLCS. Cubs’ fans were raging. They placed the blame on Bartman. A fan threw his beer on him.
Steve was escorted out of the stadium, and eleven years later, the public eye still hasn’t seen him. And eleven years later, Cubs fans, and sports fan alike feel terrible about it. The initial knee-jerk reaction to what happened was a horrible one. But they needed a scapegoat, and needed a place to put the blame after their team blew games six and seven.
That’s what Tony Stewart has become. Steve Bartman. A scapegoat for the hurt and sorrow we feel for this young driver. And he’s not at fault for this.
Tony Stewart, yes brash, yes mean at times, and yes, tight-fisted, is also a victim as well. And it’s the race fans, and media members who cover this sport, the ones that haven’t stuck up for Tony Stewart who are at fault.
Anyone who believes Tony Stewart did this on purpose is clearly a biased race fan. But put it aside for one minute. Put your fandom aside and realize this is a human being. A human being who made a mistake.
And realize what we’ve put him through the last few days. Ask yourself if you’re happy with the way you’ve handled this situation. I bet most of you wouldn’t be.
This is NASCAR. This is his job. When someone has a tough time outside of work, the workplace is their sanctuary. The people at work don’t bring it up, and bring you out to take your mind off of what is going on outside of work. This is Tony Stewart’s job. And for us inside the sport, it’s tough to hear other people outside of it, not knowing Tony Stewart, talk and act like he’s a criminal.
If you want it all to end, it has to start here; in NASCAR. Not outside of it. Welcome him back with open arms. Show him some support. There’s no question Tony Stewart feels terrible about what happened. We need to show him that this can be his sanctuary, and we can still remember Kevin Ward Jr. but also show Tony Stewart that we care and realize he’s been done wrong.
After that, everything else will fall into place, and the healing can begin.