This shouldn't be happening. Yes, racing is a dangerous game, but ultimately, it's about entertainment-we shouldn't have lost two of our brightest stars within two months of each other. There have been others this season-ARCA driver Scott Baker recently lost his life at Toledo (Ohio) Speedway-but 19-year-old Adam Petty and 30-year-old Kenny Irwin were the names even casual racing fans knew. Their deaths have brought critical attention to our sport and focused a harsh light on an immutable truth: Automobile racing can kill.
It's not like racing is the only dangerous job out there. I dare say it's no more dangerous than being a policeman, a lumberjack, or a commercial fisherman. Of course, unlike those occupations, racing does not keep our neighborhoods safe; help build homes, churches, and schools; or provide food to feed our families. The alarmists out there who would like to see our sport wiped off the map are quick to point out this difference. They are right, but they are also missing an important point.
Life is about choices, finding your way in this world. It's also about contributing in your own way. Both Petty and Irwin were dedicated professionals living their dreams as race car drivers, but there was much more to them than that.
Adam Petty's friendly nature and ever-present smile were as genuine as his considerable talents behind the wheel. He used his notoriety as a driver as well as his status as a member of the famous Petty racing family to help launch the Starbright program-a network of computers to entertain and link young boys and girls in children's hospitals across the country. Adam was polite, cordial, and an excellent role model for the boys and girls that were among his quickly growing fan base. After his death, Richard Petty said even he was surprised by the sheer number of people that had written or called to tell how Adam had touched their lives.
Kenny Irwin did not have the luxury of being born into a famous racing family. His path into the Winston Cup ranks was long and required intense focus. The Indianapolis native never had any guarantees and had to work for everything he got, yet he still found time to devote to Riley Children's Hospital. That's pretty important, if you ask me.
The naysayers do have a point: Auto racing may not have a direct, positive influence on our society. But how about the drivers who use the popularity and wealth that comes from racing as an opportunity to improve the lot of the less fortunate? You'd better believe it. Those are my heroes.-Jeff Huneycutt
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Memorials can be made to the following charities to honor our fallen friends:Adam PettyKyle Petty's Charity Ride Across Americac/o Winston Cup Racing Wives Auxiliary5700 Concord Pkwy. S.Harrisburg, NC 28075704/455-9299
Kenny IrwinRiley Children's Hospital702 Barn Hill Dr.Indianapolis, IN 46202317/274-5000