Friday, February 5, 2016

Racer, interrupted

So now comes news that Tony Stewart will miss his last Daytona 500 and who knows what else, and what you can say about that is relaxation ain't what it used to be. Stewart has always driven mechanized things fast for profit and driven them fast for fun, and now the latter has messed with the former one last time.

That he'd fracture a vertebra in his back hurling ATVs through the California dunes is dismaying but hardly surprising, because it's the kind of thing Stewart has always said he does for relaxation during his down time. But now the relaxation, at different times, has broken both his back and his spirit, the latter happening a year-and-a-half ago when his car struck and killed a young driver during in some nothing sprint-car race in upstate New York.

Fun is hell, in other words.

That's been especially true this offseason, during which Stewart had already made disagreeable news. He went into the stands to jaw at a heckler at the annual Chili Bowl sprint races, a confrontation eagerly caught on multiple cellphone videos. It was the sort of thing you might expect Johnny Manziel to do, except that Smoke is old enough to know better and Manziel, presumably, isn't.

But it was also vintage Smoke. And now that same vintage suggests we haven't seen the last of him in a Cup car. If at some point he can climb back in the seat without risking permanent damage to himself, he'll do it, because racers race. The same impulse that put him on that ATV out in the dunes will put him back in a stock car at, say, Indianapolis or Darlington or Bristol.

Racers race. It's why IndyCar lege Mel Kenyon was still wheeling midgets around the slick Memorial Coliseum floors at the age of 72, and it's why Stewart will likely be doing the same thing at the same age. Being Stewart, he'll probably also still be tottering off to get in hecklers' faces.

It's who he is. It's who he'll always be.

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