CHERYL SENTER • Associated Press NASCAR driver Tony Stewart speaks at a press conference July 12 prior in Loudon, N.H.

Let's thank drivers instead of ridiculing them

It didn't take long for some media to jump on the "let's ban all dirt-track racing" bandwagon.

Don't get me wrong: Seeing someone get injured or killed in a racing accident isn't a pleasant experience.

Whenever death or injury is involved, things get thrown into turn one faster than a pack of drivers racing for $5,000 at a national IMCA event.

But things really pushed the radiator into the fan for me Tuesday after watching ESPN discuss the injury of NASCAR driver Tony Stewart.

Stewart, who grew up racing on dirt tracks before finding his way to the asphalt of the billion-dollar industry known as NASCAR, was competing in a 360 sprint car race in Oskaloosa, Iowa, on Monday night. With only a few laps remaining, Stewart -- who was leading the race -- hit a spun lapped car, sending his car tumbling after the violent impact.

It wasn't a pretty sight, one similar to a sprint car accident I saw earlier this season in northwest Kansas.

Everyone walked away that night. Stewart wasn't so lucky. He had surgery Tuesday to repair a broken tibia and fibula in his right leg. Those are the two lower bones in a person's leg.

Stewart had his run-ins with bad luck in sprint cars recently, being caught up in a few accidents before the one that injured him Monday night.

But all ESPN and its experts could talk about is how Stewart shouldn't be competing on the small tracks during the week, and how more safety precautions need to be taken in those classes.

There have been a few sprint car deaths this year, perhaps more than in recent years -- or maybe it seems that way with the ever-growing presence of social media.

I'm all for better safety equipment, anything to help keep drivers safer. Who could argue against that?

But don't give me the argument that dirt-track racing is more dangerous than anything else. That tracks should close down before they can get better safety implemented.

Don't give me the hogwash that it's one of the most dangerous sports. It's not the safest by any means, but that means media shouldn't be jumping on the bandwagon to ban everything when something bad happens.

Stewart is a grown man. He's more than capable of making his own decisions.

It wouldn't surprise me in the least if he wouldn't strap back into a sprint car again. He's a racer, and that's what he does -- no matter what level. If he's content making that decision, then let him.

Plenty of people have broken arms or legs riding bicycles, but you don't see the media world trying to ban bikes. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 700 die in bicycle-related accidents each year -- and more than 500,000 are injured.

Sounds dangerous to me.

I'm all for improved safety. I'm all for national media saying a NASCAR driver shouldn't be competing during the week. Those outlets can say what they want.

I, and the drivers, already know racing is dangerous. Sometimes bad things happen. That's an unfortunate part of life. But we don't need to stop dirt-track racing in smaller towns.

What we need to do is thank those drivers -- even on a local level -- for putting their lives on the line every time they go out to compete for our entertainment.

When media outlets start showing the sweet slide job by a driver through turns three and four as drivers battle for the checkered flag instead of devoting more time to showing "the big one," that's when I'll start thinking about taking their advice.

Until then, they can worry about what's happening on a national stage. They don't give two shakes about local drivers and racing until something bad happens. Then, it's the end of the world.

Somebody really needs to pull the plug on them.

Nick Schwien is online racing editor at The Hays Daily News.