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Stewart crash, tragedy a wake-up call to local drivers, officials


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Mike Haag, a local sports writer, published the article below regarding the Stewart/Ward tragedy on Saturday night.


Stewart crash, tragedy a wake-up call to local drivers, officials



SAN ANTONIO — In the wake of the tragedy involving NASCAR star Tony Stewart over the weekend, area stock car drivers and officials are raising questions about track safety procedures during caution periods.


Several South Texas area drivers said Kevin Ward Jr.'s actions of getting out of the car and waving his hands and pointing fingers at an offending driver — in this case, Stewart — is rather typical in the sport. But many are questioning the events that led to the tragedy.

Rodney Rodriguez, a racer and track announcer at Central Texas Speedway in Kyle, said the incident could have been avoided.

“I have driven for over 15 years, and you do not get out of the car during a caution,” Rodriguez said. “The best thing is to let the safety personnel know that you are OK, mainly because it is so dangerous out there.”

Dillon Spreen, who drives in the open-wheel Pro Modified class at CTS, said poor track lighting and limited visibility probably played a role.

“I can see the right-front tire when I'm in the car, but anything behind that I often can't see,” Spreen said. “If someone runs out past the tire, I won't be able to see them.”

Spreen said he does not think Stewart intentionally struck Ward.

“I believe that Tony didn't see him,” Spreen said. “He was wearing a black (fire) suit, and visibility was probably an issue. People that don't know a lot about racing think that Tony just ran him over, but personally I don't think he ran him over. It was just an accident.”

Debbie Williams, a former 15-year veteran official at San Antonio Speedway and CTS, said driver safety is always a concern at area tracks.

“As an official, we try to protect drivers from themselves,” Williams said. “When a driver gets upset and gets out of the car, they just don't think logically. My goal is to calm them down during the heat of the moment.”

Williams said she expects most tracks across the country will use this incident at as teaching tool at future driver meetings.

“We covered this issue at many drivers' meetings,” Williams said. “If I was an official in this situation, there would have been no time for me to get there before Ward did what he did. There is no way the track could have been at fault in that situation.

“When you go out into traffic under a caution, safety officials cannot protect you. All we can do as an official is to stress (staying in the car) and try to enforce it. All I can hope is that the drivers learn from this terrible tragedy.”


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