Auto Racing: Grundy County, Illiana speedways looking to halt on-track driver altercations
By Tony Baranek email@example.com August 14, 2014 9:16PM
Illiana Speedway owner/promoter Mike Mikuly | Tony Baranek/Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 16, 2014 6:21AM
At short tracks nationwide this weekend the shows will go on as usual. There will be plenty of side-by-side battles, plenty of wrecks, plenty of angry drivers looking for an argument.
But it won’t be business as usual. It can’t be.
I can’t imagine any green flags dropping until drivers and track owners meet to discuss Saturday’s sprint car tragedy in New York that cost 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. his life and probably will haunt Tony Stewart for the rest of his.
It’s been almost a week now, with the chilling video being shown over and over of Stewart’s vehicle colliding with Ward’s and putting him into the wall, Ward exiting his car and attempting to confront a rolling Stewart and the horrendous conclusion that left the young man lying dead on the track.
There have been a million written and stated opinions on what people “think” happened. I don’t know why I wasted my time reading them. They don’t know. They weren’t in the cars. They weren’t in the minds of the two drivers.
I’m not joining the legions. I will wait for Tony Stewart to tell us what happened. I hope he finds some kind of peace of mind in doing so.
In the meantime, a new weekend is upon us, the first chance many drivers, track owners and officials will have a chance to reflect together on the subject of actions and consequences.
Angrily getting out a of car while still on the track will be the No. 1 subject. But the conversations should go a lot deeper. In no sport is retribution spoken about — and taken — more than in racing.
Often, the worst result is some damaged equipment and maybe a black eye or two. It wasn’t that simple Saturday.
“I think it (the tragedy in New York) is going to change short-track racing in general,” Grundy County Speedway director of competition Tom White said. “Basically, in the meeting I’m going to pose it, ‘Guys, we need to knock this stuff off. The this is how I’m going to go get somebody, or wait till the end of the year, all of this monkey business has to stop.’
“I believe that everybody is going to figure that out in their own minds after seeing this. That getting out of the car stuff and pointing and being mad has been going on for as long as racing’s been going on. We’ve been very lucky for many years. But just when you feel invincible ... ”
Street stocks competitor Cheryl Hryn was involved in an incident last season that ended with her exiting her crashed car and throwing her helmet at another driver.
“When I stepped out of the car I approached the field with caution,” she said. “The safety crew and the pace car had them at a slow enough pace. But after what has taken place I would think twice. I can’t imagine the tracks I race at will tolerate it any longer.”
Illiana Speedway promoter Mike Mikuly won’t. He said he plans to have a drivers meeting before Saturday’s program and announce a toughening of the rule he claims is already in place to prohibit drivers from leaving their cars in a non-emergency situation.
“I’m going to tell them, ‘If you get out and walk across the track, or one of your crew members come out on the track, pack it up and go home. You’re done for the rest of the year period.’ That’s going to be in black and white and bold as can be,” Mikuly said.
“If that deal happened at my track, I don’t know if I’d open this weekend. I think it would weigh on my mind that bad. I put a place together for guys and gals to come out and enjoy their hobby. A lot of them take it very, very serious. I don’t want to see somebody get carried out in a body bag.”
Turbo stox and pure stocks driver Michael Gerike lauded Mikuly’s stance.
“I agree 100 percent on the suspension,” Gerike said. “Once you set foot on that track, caution or not, you’re taking your life into your own hands. I don’t see a reason to exit the car on the track unless you are on fire. If you want to fight, save it for the pits.”