And on to graver news. On Friday morning Kenny Irwin was killed in a race car accident in New Hampshire. To most of you that probably doesn’t mean anything, and I admit that it doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. Now don’t misquote me, of course it means something. We all lower our heads and slowly shake them in sincere sympathy. But honestly the world is too large for one stranger’s death to have much effect.
But I find the incident intriguing. The day it happened I ventured out to cnn.com as I always do looking for the days news. There it was, the front page item of the day. But due to some unforeseen internet calamity I couldn’t open the article. So I ventured to nascar.com to get the story. The front page article on nascar.com was that Rusty Wallace had the pole for Sunday’s race. Kenny’s death was mentioned farther down the page, in a list of other news items.
Perhaps it’s my years of journalistic experience, but I think an on track death is bigger news than a lousy pole position. I can’t help but wonder what goes on in the minds of the Nascar elite. An on track death isn’t anything new. Adam Petty, grandson of the legend Richard Petty was killed a few months ago at the same track, in the same corner. If I was a true Nascar fan I could probably rattle off a number of drivers who were killed on the track in the past few years. I can also remember a number of articles about fan injuries and even death when flying debris found its way into the grandstand. I can’t quite imagine the horror of a front tire landing in your lap at 200 mph. Gruesome doesn’t begin to describe it.
And all of this death for what? A sport. A sport where men spur iron ponies in circles, sending billowing clouds of exhaust into the Carolina sky. And somehow a substantial network of cash and profit has grown up around, just like every other sport. And I know, I know, every fan and racing fanatic around will call me a fool, even my own father and brother. But you can’t help but wonder about a sport where a wrong move can cost you your life, or even the life of a fan. I’m not proposing any action, I understand the joy and value of a sport like Nascar. Certainly great strides in automobile safety have come from racing. Certainly any sport can bring the chance of death. Certainly waking up in the morning puts me in the path of doom.
I just find it perplexing that a man dies when his car slams into that concrete wall, and the cash fueled cow of professional sport lumbers on, kind statements said, memorial videos to be aired on Sunday.