Karle's Korner: Kevin Ward, Jr. Tragedy: NASCAR's Watershed Moment

Karle's Korner: Kevin Ward, Jr. Tragedy: NASCAR's Watershed Moment
Tony Stewart. (Source: Kim Phillips/Wikicommons)
Tony Stewart. (Source: Kim Phillips/Wikicommons)

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The following is a sports commentary blog from FOX6 Sports Director Rick Karle:

When will we ever learn? Why does it take a tragedy for us to make changes that could save lives? Why? Another head-shaking moment has once again awakened us from our slumber. This time the tragedy comes from the world of racing, and it's a watershed moment for NASCAR and racing series everywhere.

For many race fans, waking up on Sunday morning brought heart-breaking news: 20-year old sprint driver Kevin Ward, Jr. was struck and killed by a race car driven by Tony Stewart during a sprint car race Saturday night in Canandaigua, New York.

During Saturday's short track race, Stewart, who often races short tracks on the eve of his Sprint Cup races, caused Ward, Jr to spin. That prompted Ward to get out of his car to confront Stewart, who struck Ward, Jr on the following lap.

Stewart pulled out of Sunday's Cup race at Watkins Glen and is cooperating with the investigation (those close to Stewart are saying he is no doubt very upset).

It's simply time: It's time for NASCAR and every other racing entity to outlaw drivers getting out of their cars during a race. Oh, we've seen it before- a driver unbuckling his restraints, then standing on the track pointing, yelling and often throwing his helmet at another driver the next time that offending driver passes by.

Sometimes we laugh, sometimes TV sportscasters like me show the clip on the air. Well it's time to stop laughing, time for ESPN anchors and other talking heads to stop "having fun" by showing those clips. For NASCAR, it's time to lower the boom.

While NASCAR fines drivers for such boorish behavior, it's time that Brian France, Mike Helton and the big boys to include a no-tolerance clause in their rule book.

My stance? Any driver who leaves his or her car during a race will automatically be booted from the series for the remainder of the year. No fine, no suspension, no grace period, just give 'em the boot. A little harsh? Ya think Kevin Ward's family thinks that would be too harsh?

Thirteen years ago we witnessed tragedy when Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was killed at Daytona. To their credit, NASCAR officials swiftly implemented the HANS head and neck restrain system, which has since no doubt saved lives. It was NASCAR's watershed moment of the new millennium.

Now, NASCAR must deal with another very dangerous element: Road rage. It's time for this nonsense to stop. If drivers would like to take their helmets off and have at it after a race, I'm all for it, heck- set up a steel cage in the infield and let them go at it once the race is over. But any driver seen climbing from their car during a race should be gone, period.

And Tony Stewart? NASCAR may want to implement yet another rule: NASCAR drivers should be allowed to participate in NASCAR events only- that's why they drive for NASCAR. While I appreciate Stewart's passion for racing and often admire his willingness to take part in grass roots racing events (the Talladega short track is one of his favorites), he may need to stick to racing with the professionals.

Tom Brady doesn't play Arena Football on Saturday nights, Derek Jeter doesn't play softball the night before a big series with the Red Sox. Did Stewart miss the message sent last summer when he broke his leg in a sprint race? Through this tragedy, I can only hope that Stewart has received the message this time around: NASCAR drivers should only race alongside the pros.

You will likely read a lot about this incident in the coming days. While much of it will pertain to Tony Stewart, let's remember that this is really about a young life cut short. A life that might still be with us if NASCAR had taken a harder stance on drivers getting out of their cars while a race was taking place. Hey NASCAR, are you listening?