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Tony Stewart crash is a tragic lesson in road rage

In this Friday Aug. 8 2014 photograph Tony Stewart stands garage areafter practice sessifor Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series aurace

In this Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 photograph, Tony Stewart stands in the garage area after a practice session for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, in Watkins Glen N.Y. Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr., 20, a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York on Saturday night. Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said his department's investigation is not criminal and that Stewart was "fully cooperative" and appeared "very upset" over what had happened. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

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Updated: August 12, 2014 2:05PM

Most of us understand that cars and anger do not go well together. We see them driving together too often on the road, and, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit we’re not proud of some of things we’ve done behind the wheel in all our self-righteousness.

Take all those emotions, plus ultra-competitiveness, and you’re starting to understand the world of racecar drivers. Put those people in machines built for speed, and you have a recipe for disaster. Not just innocent car-on-car collisions or car-and-wall mishaps, but acts of road rage at ridiculous speeds.

At this point, none of us can be sure what happened when Tony Stewart’s sprint car hit and killed fellow racer Kevin Ward Jr. as he ran onto the track to confront the superstar racer. Videotape shows that moments earlier, Stewart’s car had hit Ward’s, sending it into a fence at a dirt track in upstate New York. Ward jumped out of his car, walked onto the half-mile loop as the vehicles came back around and was killed when Stewart’s car hit him.

Stewart hasn’t been charged with a crime, but that hasn’t stopped national discussion about his intent in the tragedy. Did he hit the gas so that his car would fishtail and send the 20-year-old a message? Was it more ominous than that? Did he even see Ward?

We may never know. What we do know is that Ward shouldn’t have walked onto the track after the accident. We know that, no matter what Stewart had in mind, Ward’s anger fueled his own death.

Here’s the thing: Nothing can be done about it. You can’t legislate animosity out of racing. Anger helps feed competitiveness in sports. One of the reasons Michael Jordan was so good was that he remembered every perceived slight in his career. The ones who might have slighted him eventually found themselves trampled in his competitive rage.

So putting men (mostly) in racecars and rewarding whoever finishes first? Sit back and watch the sparks fly. Millions of race fans do.

It’s easy for us to say there’s no place for anger in auto racing, what with life and limb being at stake. It’s just not realistic.

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