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Stewart defends IndyCar from critics
22 October 2011
NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Tony Stewart has spoken out about the accident that claimed the life of Dan Wheldon last weekend at Las Vegas, and appealed for everyone to "take a deep breath and let the emotions settle down."
Stewart raced in the Indy Racing League in the 1990s and was crowned IRL champion in 1997 before his move to stock car racing, but he remains a fan of the open-wheel series to this day and hopes that the fatal accident won't mean the end of IndyCar races on ovals.
"I'm a big fan of IndyCar racing," he said. "I always have been and I always will. I prefer to watch them on the ovals verses the road courses. I've always been a fan of it ... When we're not racing we watch IndyCar races, if they're not racing they watch our races.
"Racing is racing and race fans are race fans. They want to see racing. It's stupidity to compare back and forth and make it into that situation."
Stewart was quick to defend the series, and its beleaguered CEO Randy Bernard who has taken immense criticism over the management of the series leading up to the ill-fated IZOD IndyCar Series World Championships.
"Randy Bernard has been getting beat up over it and he shouldn't," he said. "It's part of racing, its part of what can happen. Everybody is a back chair quarterback going no we should do this or shouldn't do that.
"I think everybody has got to take a deep breath and let the emotions settle down. Everybody is obviously thinking about Dan and his family, his wife and two children, there's a lot of great charity stuff coming up to help them out which we are really proud to be a part of."
Stewart is among drivers world wide to be contributing items to a charity auction to benefit Dan Wheldon's family. He himself will be donating his helmet from this weekend's Cup race at Talladega.
"I think everybody has to take a step back from it and realize this is auto racing" he continued. "It's racing; I mean it's always been racing. I mean auto racing as a whole is safer than it's ever been. It still boils down to the people that are steering the cars around. It's not that the cars are unsafe, there's still people that tell the cars where to go so we've got to take responsibility. There is no reason for anybody to point fault anywhere. There's no fault in it. It's racing.
"Racing has always been dangerous. That's why people come to watch races because there is an element of danger involved. You're never going to get it all out but like we said it's safer than it's ever been. It's a freak thing that happened and it can happen every race. It can happen every race that we run but it's safer than it's ever been ... Safety in both IndyCar racing and stock car racing has come a long way in the last 10 years.
"It's always been dangerous but everybody still does it. If it was so bad, none of us would want to do this: but we still love doing this every week and it's just part of the sport unfortunately. It's never going to be 100 percent safe."
Stewart insisted that he wasn't worried for the survival of IndyCar as a series in the wake of last week's tragic events and said that "I don't think anybody actually thinks that way. I think it's ludicrous if somebody does think that," adding: "I was enjoying watching the races this year just like always ... There's always been IndyCar racing and stock car racing and it's coexisted for years and it's always been fine."
He pointed out: "They had 34 cars at Vegas. That's an incredible field. That's the biggest field I've seen in years. I don't think so. I think that's a sign that they're gaining a little bit and I hope they are."
Stewart insisted that he had no safety concerns about IndyCar racing - "No, never. Not once" - and that he was always open to a return to open-wheel competition "if the opportunity was right.
"The hard thing is that series has gotten really competitive. You aren't just going to go show up and drop in one and be up to speed right away. That's why it makes it so hard to go do something like that," he said. "The reason we don't do it isn't even remotely safety issue-wise it's just time-wise and it you're going to do it you want to be competitive doing it. You want to make sure when you show up at a race you're competitive and ready to go.
"It would be like trying to go run a top fuel dragster next week. I've never done it and its going to take you a while to get used to something like that."
Stewart also had a big crash of his own at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in NASCAR, but he didn't think there was much to learn from the comparison: "No, they were totally separate, totally different circumstances," he insisted. "Still the same facility but you know the track being changed had nothing to do with it. Our accident was totally, it was opposite ends of the spectrum of what happened with their wreck."
As he prepared for his own race at Talladega, Stewart summed up the feelings of many professional motor racing drivers who have spoken in the days following Dan Wheldon's death.
"It is definitely a tragedy. But it doesn't affect us getting back in the car. We all know that can happen every week. It's been a part of racing forever. I don't know that it's necessarily why we do what we do; but, we know those risks going into it. It is part of the sport.
"It always has been and it always will be."
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