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Understanding Some of the Rules behind the Tony Stewart Story

There has been a ton of confusion among members of the National media following Tony Stewart's on track incident in which sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. was killed. One thing I've noticed is that many news outlets have not done their homework about racing. I thought a few quick answers to questions that I've answered in conversation would also help some readers.

Please don't take these answers as being rude, I'm just filling in some holes that many in the media outside of racing have missed. Also, my heart goes out to the Ward family and all of the people involved. This article in no way suggests anything about any outcome, what Ward was thinking, what Stewart was thinking, or what the investigation outcome will be.

Sprint Cup Car or Sprint Car?

These are two entirely different things. A Sprint Cup Car is a NASCAR race car. They used to be called Winston Cup Cars, or NEXTEL Cup Cars. Those are sponsor names. The Company "Sprint" is the sponsor so their name is used. If I wanted to sponsor NASCAR the cars would be called "Kent Cup Cars."

A "sprint car" is a type of race car. They are small, fast, open wheeled, and have wing thingys on top. They "sprint" to a fast finish. Sprint cars are not stock cars such as those used in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing, or in ARCA series racing, and late model series across the country.

Race cars come in many forms; sprint cars, stock cars, IndyCars, Monster trucks, and more.

Why Does NASCAR not do something?

Something about what... exactly? Stewart was not racing in a NASCAR race. He was racing in his dirt track sprint car in an event at a dirt track that's not part of NASCAR. NOTE: This answer generally leads to the following Q&A's

How can he race outside of a NASCAR race?

NASCAR does not hire drivers to race cars in any of the many NASCAR sanctioned racing series. In fact, I can't name any racing series where the sanctioning body hires drivers.

All race teams in NASCAR are business that hire their own drivers to race the cars they enter into races. Driver are under contract with their teams. Essentially they are contract labor. A driver can race in another series, car, or whatever depending on the wording of their contracts with their team. 

Think of it this way - Tiger Woods can play any golf course he wants to. Stewart, or any driver, can race what ever, when ever, where ever they want to depending on their own contracts with their teams.

Rules about Exiting Cars / Wreck Cars

Generally the question I'm asked goes something like this "Doesn't NASCAR have a rule about leaving a car that would have stopped Ward from walking across the track?"

No, NASCAR rules apply only to NASCAR races. The dirt track where Ward was killed has their own safety regulations as does any sanctioning body that holds events/races there.

The larger answer is that every track, and every sanctioning body sets its own safety rules and regulations. Sometimes these rules can change on the fly and any announcements are generally stated to the drivers during pre-season and pre-race meetings.

You can bet that after the death of Ward there will be a new focus on rules that cover when a driver can leave a car following a wreck. In fact several dirt tracks have already announced new rules covering this. But, drivers can always break a rule in the heat of the moment. It's happened countless times in the history of racing in all series.

Does NASCAR have rules covering this?

Well, kind of... but not really. - Actually there are a combination of common sense, safety rules, and guidelines. But again, those would not have applied to the tragedy involving Ward and Stewart. And at the same time, the following generalized description is done in most motorsports. But this is my answer as it applies to NASCAR.

This answer is very generalized in the sense that this is how I explain it to a non-racing person. As it's a combination of rules, series of events, and safety processes. This is the long version.

The driver of a wrecked NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race car is supposed to lower the window netting following the wreck as a signal that "Everything is OK" and that he's not in need of instant medical treatment. This is a throw-back move to the days prior to inboard radio but still works wonderfully today. And, the driver, if possible - also communicates with his team via radio to let them know he's OK. NASCAR officials also have radio communications over the whole track.

The signal also serves the purpose of giving rescue workers and the medical staff a visual indicator. Their safety is at stake too. A race track is a dangerous place so the net being down shows them that they can, and should - and probably (hopefully do) - respond in a safe manner. As in, not pulling out in front of an oncoming car because the net is still up and the driver needs help!

In general, depending on the safety meeting that day, track guideline, and all of the things mentioned above - the driver should not exit the car unless in danger - such as fire etc. But there are also other factors such as fumes from fuel and the simple desire to get out of a wrecked car as quickly as possible. That falls into human nature.

The driver's generally exit the car and head towards the wall to lean on something, some sit on the ground, and some throw things at other drivers. The throwing things or making gestures and the like are were some fines or penalties could come into play.

At this point standard EMS procedures are used. The driver is evaluated and treated at the scene if needed by EMS as Track workers move the car and start cleaning things up. The driver could be packed on a stretcher or escorted to the waiting ambulance. Regardless if a driver is hurt or not, NASCAR requires them to ride in an ambulance to the tracks medical care center.

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