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Sports Business

Tony Stewart risking his business enterprise with reckless decisions

August 6, 2013
KEYWORDS Sports Business

It’s time Tony Stewart gets a reality check.
And it’s probably time for one of his business associates or friends to give it to him. This is not the time for Stewart to surround himself with yes men who tell him what he wants to hear.

It’s time for Stewart to hear what needs to be said.

This isn’t 1967 and Stewart isn’t A.J. Foyt. It’s way past time for Stewart to give up sprint car racing (not to be confused with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series). Racing sprint cars known for their high power-to-weight ratios and wings on their roofs is way too dangerous. Stewart has far too many people counting on him for their livelihood to risk life and limb for something that in the long run really doesn’t mean much.

I know, NASCAR drivers have a long history of jumping behind the wheel of just about anything for a race. It’s part of their heritage, and Stewart is trying to live up to that. It’s time for the Indiana native to make a break from tradition before he breaks any more bones—or worse.

Stewart has to remember, he’s not just another driver. He’s an owner of a major motorsports enterprise with sizable operations in North Carolina and central Indiana.

Stewart has been in three nasty sprint car crashes in less than a month. After his second sprint car crash, Stewart brushed off questions as only he can.

“You mortals have got to learn,” Stewart told a gaggle of reporters at a recent NASCAR race. “You guys need to watch more sprint car videos and stuff. It was not a big deal. It’s starting to get annoying this week about that, so that was just an average sprint car wreck. When they wreck they get upside down like that. That was not a big deal.”

Well, maybe it is a big deal after all. Maybe the man known to his fans as Smoke is playing with fire.
After the first two crashes, Stewart walked away. After his third crash, the super-human Stewart was carried off on a stretcher. Stewart is drunk, not from alcohol, but from his own power. And he needs to have his sprint car keys taken away.

Stewart's most recent crash happened late Monday night at a race in Oskaloosa, Iowa, where the three-time NASCAR champ broke his leg. Early Tuesday, Stewart underwent surgery.

Stewart-Haas Racing spokesman Mike Arning said Stewart sustained a broken right tibia and fibula in the crash at Southern Iowa Speedway and will be out at least a week. Almost humorously, Stewart-Haas officials said the team’s owner would not participate in a tire test next Tuesday. You don’t say. I don’t care how tough he is, Stewart is going to be out a lot longer than a week.

Despite the setback, Stewart has reason to smile—this time. Those who saw Stewart’s car somersaulting along the track know it could have been worse. A lot worse.

No one needs to be reminded that 37-year-old NASCAR driver Jason Leffler was killed in a sprint car race earlier this summer.

It’s a dangerous sport, and the guys who get behind the wheel of any race car know and accept that. I get going after your dreams, and I understand 20-something-year-old guys racing the sprint track circuit trying to realize their dreams of making it to the big leagues. 

But I don’t understand a 42-year-old owner of a multi-million dollar NASCAR operation climbing behind the wheel and racing alongside a bunch of hell-bent kids.

It’s funny to me that many folks in and around the stock car circuit say NASCAR drivers can’t risk racing the Indianapolis 500 or other IndyCar Series races because it’s too dangerous. It would be stupid, they say, for stock car stars to risk their NASCAR livelihoods. Really?!

At least if you’re racing at Indianapolis, you’re racing for something meaningful. Maybe open-wheel racing isn’t what it once was, but there’s no denying that anyone who has ever made their living racing cars (trucks, boats or tractors for that matter) would want their face etched on the Borg-Warner Trophy. That still means something significant—not only for a racer’s legacy, but for his business interests as well.

What does a victory in Oskaloosa mean? And while I’m not going to say that every IndyCar driver is among the best in the world, I’d certainly take my chances going wheel-to-wheel with the likes of Dario Franchitti, Marco Andretti and the rest of the open-wheel bunch rather than lining in up against who knows who on a dirt track in Timbuktu.
And though some complain that the IndyCar chassis has a tendency under certain circumstances to become airborne, I’d say they’ve proven to be largely safe, or at least about as safe as a car going 200 mph can be.

Whether you’re in an open-wheel car at Indianapolis or on a dirt track in a small town, racing is dangerous and sometimes people get hurt or even killed. I get that. But running a business is about managing risk. And Stewart seems to be taking some unnecessary gambles with his business and his life.

Stewart doesn’t take any bull—or much advice—from anyone. That’s what makes him simultaneously one of the most loved and loathed guys in NASCAR.

But this time, let’s hope that Stewart listens to a voice of reason. Because, love him or hate him, most would agree NASCAR would be worse off with his absence.


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