Clinton, South Carolina, Friday, August 29, 2014, 1:59 p.m.
“When the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, He writes not that you won or lost, but how you played the game.” – Grantland Rice (1880-1954)
On Thursday, I met an old friend for lunch, and, naturally, the subject of Tony Stewart came up.
“If that had been anyone else – if it had been another driver at that track, or even if it had been Landon Cassill, or Brian Scott – do you think, what, the story would have been over by Wednesday?”
“Well,” I said, “it wasn’t. It was Tony Stewart.”
It’s the price of being famous. It’s market value. Stories linger when inquiring minds want to know. When Stewart was a young star, he often railed about the obligations of stardom. “I just want to race,” he said. “I didn’t sign up for all this other stuff.”
“Well, then, why do you do it?” someone asked.
“I’ve got no choice.”
“Sure you do,” replied the questioner. “You can choose not to be famous. You can race sprint cars the rest of your life. If you don’t want the obligations, give up what goes with them.”
Stewart didn’t have a reply. He desperately wanted to think of himself as somehow all alone, but he knew he wasn’t.
More than a decade has passed. The great crisis of Stewart’s life occurred while he was racing without all the obligations.
Today I’ve heard several people express the view that no else has had to go through this. How utterly ridiculous. My guess is that most everyone who reads this has been touched by indescribable sorrow. A kid is in a crash that snuffs out the life of a friend or loved one. A coach orders wind sprints in which one of his players collapses and dies. A dad gives his son a shotgun, or a four-wheeler, or, yes, a race car, and something awful happens.
No one survives a tragedy without contemplating what he or she could have done to avert it. The split second has already elapsed. It cannot be revisited. No good comes from the ruination of more lives. People move on as best they can. It’s a terrible price to pay for becoming a better man, but if there is a reason for the mysterious ways in which we believe God works, that has to be it, and, ultimately, Stewart’s obligation now is to save himself.
Another stage in the grief process is the understanding that no one is unique. People lose their loved ones to war, poverty, drug abuse, violence, insanity, suicide, and the accident of being in the wrong place, and the wrong state of mind, at the wrong time.
What separates Tony Stewart are the obligations of fame and the attention they entail.
People mistakenly believe that success makes people better. It doesn’t. It’s enjoyable, and wonderful, but one’s character is molded by how he or she reacts to the worst things that happen, not the best. It makes some and breaks others.
That is the reason Tony Stewart must race again. It’s not a matter of sensitivity. It’s not one of consideration or obligation. It’s one of survival.
What Stewart signed up for was being a racer. Like all rose gardens, it has its thorns.