Drivers and fans across all disciplines of the sport share a bond that doesn’t end at the finish line, or fade when they leave the track.
Mia Swims-Green, whose family owns Woodstock’s Dixie Speedway, takes it even a step further.
“I’ve said for years that racing isn’t really a sport. It’s a lifestyle,” she said. “All kinds of racing are connected. It’s really strange. I don’t know any other sport that is like the racing community. It’s almost like an extended family, so whenever something happens, even if it’s in drag racing or sprint cars or whatever the case, you will see late-model fans, open-wheel fans, NASCAR fans that seem to know exactly what’s going on. It’s definitely a tightly knit community whenever something tragic happens.”
Over the weekend, when the Dixie dirt track was empty following a rainout, it wasn’t surprising that emotions could be felt in Cherokee County when the news of a death of a driver at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York reached fans. It didn’t matter who was involved because no matter what it was a loss in the brotherhood.
The incident, which happened Saturday night on a dirt track similar to Dixie, began when Kevin Ward Jr.’s car was bumped into the wall when by NASCAR great Tony Stewart, who is in the area for the next day’s Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen. The 20-year-old Ward exited his damaged car onto the track to confront Stewart, but he was struck by the rear tire of Stewart’s car and pulled along the track.
Police in the area have not filed charges against Stewart, though it could still be a possibility as the investigation continues.
Swims-Green said Dixie has been contacted by several groups for a statement about the incident in New York, but they’ve declined since they were not there to witness it, and, as Swims-Green said, “every incident is different.”
Swims-Green did say, however, that Dixie has a safety plan in place to prevent similar injuries.
“We have a rule book in place that you cannot get out of your car, or you are automatically disqualified,” Swims-Green said. “We have several rules in place, and that is just one of them. Another one is that, during a wreck, they cannot get out of their car unless the safety official sees that there is a danger of a fire, or that the car could explode. They are not to get out at all.”
In the event that a car is disabled in an accident at Dixie, drivers are instructed to either remain in their vehicle as it is towed from the track, or they are taken from the track on an all-terrain vehicle.
“We do have a safety director, Tim Crossland, who is there all the time,” Swims-Green said.
In 2013, Dixie driver Steve Schofield’s car ricocheted off the wall and was struck by another car driven by Joey Armistead. Schofield was extricated from his car with the Jaws of Life and taken from the track by helicopter to WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta.
Schofield suffered broken bones in both ankles and wrists, while Armistead suffered a broken foot.
“We were just so thankful to have (Crossland) on staff when that happened,” Swims-Green said.