#OwenSoundStrong

When I was young, I always felt there was something special about Owen Sound. I was born here and lived in the city for about six years, but I can only recall some things, vaguely. I spent most of my youth and early adulthood living in the rural areas surrounding Owen Sound.

It was when I was a teenager in high school that I experienced a strong desire to live here. I mean, who wouldn’t at that age? There was cable TV! Out in the sticks we had three channels. Sure, country living had its advantages; it was peaceful. Back then you could most likely leave the house and not worry about locking it. And there really is something to that bumper sticker that says, “Farmers Feed Cities” because I’ve helped a few farmers in my day and the work that goes behind that bumper sticker is extremely underrated.

I remember when I first moved to Owen Sound. I was experiencing a moment of relaxation and I just took a deep breath, exhaled, and thought to myself, “I live in Owen Sound.” I felt like I was one of “them” now. I felt like I was one of those cool kids I went to high school with. It was really nice to have such a short commute to work. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no regrets for all the rural living my parents provided me with growing up. In fact, I’m thankful for it, and as I get older, I appreciate it more.

Fast forward to today. I’ve been a resident of Owen Sound for some twenty years now and I love this city. There are many things that could be changed about it according to the conversations I’ve been involved with over the years, but nothing’s perfect. It’s a pretty good size for a small city. I enjoy visiting large cities like Toronto but there is no way I would want to live there and it’s always nice to get home.

Owen Sound is special to me for many reasons. I’ve held a job at my employer for over thirty years now, and everything behind that statement could be a whole nother story, but my success there and the fact that the company has been a staple of Owen Sound’s industry for over 160 years is due largely in part because of the people who work there.

In 1989 Owen Sound put itself on the sports map with the move of the Guelph Platers to our fair city who, since moving to Owen Sound, have produced many stars of the NHL. The team was renamed to the Owen Sound Attack in 2000, and in 2011 became the OHL Champions. That’s something to be proud of since we are a rather small city.

I could go on about what makes Owen Sound great but let me get to why I sat down to write this. In the early morning hours of Monday, August 10, 2015, forty-one residents from fifteen households lost their homes to a completely senseless act. Three people are being held responsible for setting fires to these homes, many of which were part of a ten unit apartment building. Most of these families have lost everything, and some, unfortunately, had no insurance. I’ve heard that, sadly, some pets were lost but we can thank God no human lives were lost, and that truly is a miracle.

The police, fire and EMS staff who responded to this nightmare from not just Owen Sound, but from other stations around the area, are heroes. They will deny that statement and just chalk it up to them doing their jobs, but to the twenty-plus thousand people in this community, they are heroes.

The community is responding to this tragedy in a number of ways. Some members of the community were paramount in the capture of the arsonists, while others are doing what they can to help the victims get their lives back. In fact, at the time of this writing, the residents of Owen Sound and the surrounding areas of Grey and Bruce Counties have donated more than $200,000 for the victims, and that includes a one-day fundraiser by the local radio station that pulled in a whopping $105,000.

Landlords around the area with vacant living spaces are opening their doors to house the victims and the local chapter of United Way has stated that the families will have permanent homes by September 1.

This is a community who cares about their fellow citizens. We are a strong community; Owen Sound Strong. Today, the Police Department held a barbecue to raise funds for the Canadian Red Cross which will be used to help the families. They were selling t-shirts with the hashtag #OwenSoundStrong across the back and yes, I bought one. In fact, I made a much bigger donation than was requested because, like I said to the lady who accepted it, words can’t describe how thankful I am for what they’ve done for our community.

To the men and women from all of the public service entities who took part in every aspect of the response to this tragedy, I say a very heartfelt “thank you”.

The Stewart/Ward Incident

Those of you who follow motor sports will likely have heard about this, but there are those who don’t, and may not have. On Saturday night (August 9, 2014) at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in Ontario County, New York, there was an accident in the sprint car race involving NASCAR driver Tony Stewart and a young 20 year old driver named Kevin Ward Jr., where Ward was pronounced dead on arrival at the local hospital.

I’m writing this post for two reasons. First, to offer condolences to the Ward family for their tragic loss, and second, to comment on the incident itself, as well as what I’m reading online from other people. 

To the Ward family, I pray that your grief be short and that you find yourselves closer to God, for He will comfort you while you move forward. The tragic loss of anyone is difficult, but when that loved one is so young, when parents see their child go before them, I can only imagine the pain in your hearts. 

For those who don’t know the details of this accident, the track is a half mile dirt surface; the sprint cars in this particular race are open wheeled in design and are quite fast. There were two parts to this incident. The first part is the crash of Kevin Ward Jr. where it appears that Tony Stewart drove him up into the wall causing Ward to crash. Ward was fine at this point. You can see the crash on the CBS News website. I can’t find a YouTube version without any annoying ads, so here’s the link: http://cbsn.ws/VfRZbB. Be warned, this video may be disturbing to some viewers. 

When watching a replay of a racing accident, it’s important to watch, if available, the events leading up the the crash itself, and keep in mind that these drivers have no radios or spotters like other forms of motor sports. The replay starts with Stewart between turns 3 and 4 with Ward in front of him. By the time Stewart exits turn 4, he has a great deal of speed built up and makes a move to the inside to pass Ward. They continue down the front straightaway side by side. What people who want to blame Stewart aren’t seeing is the car driving slower by the inside wall. Tony saw it, and knowing that Ward is to his right, has to make a move to avoid hitting both cars while sliding around the corner the way sprint cars do.

By the time they enter turn 1, Ward knows Stewart is coming up beside him and stays high on the track to avoid him. Stewart avoids the car on the inside and while speed and momentum carry his car up the track it doesn’t appear to make contact with Ward’s car. Ward sees Stewart coming up the track at a higher rate of speed and slightly ahead of him. It’s my belief that Ward’s evasive move got him too close to the wall and the tires hit the concrete causing the car to spin.

The person filming the incident kept the camera on Ward. You can see he is okay, and when he exits the car he is clearly upset at Stewart. The race slows as the caution comes out for the spin so the cars are not travelling at full speed. Kevin Ward Jr. merely wants to display his displeasure toward Stewart because he believes Tony took him out. This is not uncommon in racing, by any means. But because of the dim lighting at the facility, and because Ward’s racing suit is almost entirely black, he would be difficult to see standing in the middle of the track. There’s also the fact that, if you watch the video carefully, the lighting at the track appears to be shining somewhat in the drivers’ eyes as they exit turn 1, so Stewart may have had difficulty seeing Ward until the last instant.

I’ve read on the Internet where people are accusing Tony Stewart of murder, of purposely gunning the throttle and trying to get close to Ward. I wasn’t there. These accusers weren’t there. But over the years I’ve watched enough replays, listened to enough analysis, and heard enough comments from drivers involved in accidents to know how fast these things can happen. I’ve even played around with a very realistic racing game enough to know – and yes, I know it’s just a game – how fast things can happen and what kind of reaction time is required to try and avoid these types of incidents. 

I’ve watched the replay of this accident enough to know that it was truly an accident. There was absolutely no intent to cause not only the accident that took Ward out of the race, but also no intent by Stewart to strike Ward with his car one lap later. And I seriously doubt he saw, let alone expected to see, Kevin Ward Jr. standing in the middle of the track that night.

Unless you’re in the car, you have no way to know what truly happened, and I include myself in that statement. These are my thoughts on the matter and are in no way influenced by anyone else. It’s just how I see it. I follow NASCAR enough to know Tony Stewart would never intentionally use a race car to cause bodily harm to another competitor.