I was dozing off on the couch Saturday night (got too turnt up at a BBQ, smh), but was jolted out of sleep by the news of Tony Stewart killing a competing driver at a small dirt track in Upstate New York.
After furious Googling and Twittering, I learned the reports were true. Stewart and Kevin Ward Jr. got into an accident, taking Ward out of the race. Ward, visibly upset, exited his car and approached Stewart as he circled back to the spot of the accident. Although the amateur video switches focus for a second, it comes back to Ward just as Stewart’s car clips him, delivering the blow that would ultimately kill him.
The video is easy to find, so I won’t link to it here.
Since the incident, Stewart has been questioned by police, who have no interest in pursuing a criminal case against him (for now). According to the law, this is a competition-related tragedy.
That hasn’t stopped many, including friends and family of Ward, accusing Stewart of everything from an ill-fated attempt to scare Ward to murder:
Tyler Graves, a fellow racer and friend of Ward’s said, “Tony Stewart needs to be put in prison for life.”
Say what you will about how boring NASCAR is but there ain't very many other sports that allow you to murder your opponents. #tonystewart
— Carlos Valencia (@carlos_valencia) August 10, 2014
What hasn’t been said nearly as much is: how much of this should be blamed on Kevin Ward?
Of course it’s never wise to weigh in on such a serious situation before you have all the facts. But we do know a few things, and they point to Ward showing severe road rage, endangering himself and other drivers in the process.
Apparently Ward and Stewart have a history. Several articles have come out since Saturday characterizing the two as rivals . That is enough for some to indicate it was a motive for Stewart:
But before you convict Stewart of murder in your head, you have to justify why Ward, just 20 years old, decided to walk on a race track at night in a black fire suit. Rash decision-making like that doesn’t often result in death, but when it does you have to examine it as a cause.
Professional drivers know the perils of their sport better than anyone. And Ward is hardly the first driver to walk on the track in anger after a crash. Stewart himself did it recently.
But when the worst happens, it’s unfair to absolve the victim. In that sense, it’s like the Ray Rice domestic violence case and subsequent comments by Stephen A. Smith. In essence, Smith said that men shouldn’t hit women, and women shouldn’t provoke men; a stance that many seemed to agree with when TheSUNK posted about it on SBM just last month.
Only Tony Stewart knows his intent. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe he intended to cause Ward any harm. I think it’s much more likely that he didn’t see Ward until it was too late, tried to swerve, but couldn’t avoid making contact. On a dirt track, I believe Stewart’s vision was impacted, and Ward’s black suit made him difficult to see at night.
Stewart is known for his temper. It’s part of what makes him a star in NASCAR. Besides the video above, he’s made threatening comments, and would never be described as “mild mannered.” Despite that, I give him the benefit of the doubt.
What do you think? Does Stewart shoulder all the blame for Saturday’s tragedy? Should he be facing criminal charges?
Post your thoughts in the comments below.