The world of racing is still reeling from the tragic events that occurred over the weekend, and questions are rising quickly.
Kevin Ward Jr. was bumped into a wall by Tony Stewart during a dirt track race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park on Saturday night. Infuriated, Ward got out of his car and walked out onto the track. As he seemed to point at Stewart’s car, Stewart hit Ward. Shortly after, the racer was declared dead.
The case is under investigation, but many are already questioning whether Stewart’s actions were entirely accidental. Stewart has a history of anger on the track. One flare up caused him to do put himself in a dangerous situation similar to Ward’s two years ago, when Stewart walked out onto the track and threw a helmet at an opponent’s car.
While we won’t speculate on the whether Stewart’s actions were intentional, we do know that anger problems or issues with emotional control are commonly associated with traumatic brain injuries. We also know traumatic brain injuries are more common in racing than you might think.
It makes sense that competitive drivers would have heightened risks of brain injuries. While their vehicles are suited with every safety mechanism possible, racers are still known to drive dirty and bumps or bruises aren’t uncommon among the drivers or their cars.
The New York Times recently profiled the issue of brain injuries in racing and their portrayal suggests that brain injuries are likely common, but no one is sure exactly how frequent they are. The league is working to improve brain safety, but currently it is up to drivers to report any suspected brain injuries. Unfortunately, competitors in high-stakes events usually don’t report any injuries that may remove them from the race.
Obviously, we can’t know whether Tony Stewart acted maliciously out of competitive anger or he was simply unable to avoid the competitor who dangerously strode out onto the track. We also can’t know whether Stewart has a history of brain injuries related to racing or otherwise. But the combination of Stewart’s anger history and the sport’s brain injury risks raise many more questions about what exactly caused Saturday night’s horrific incident.