Hit by Tony Stewart’s car while he was angrily reacting to an on-track altercation, young driver Kevin Ward, Jr. was tragically killed last night in a Sprint Car race Canandaigua, New York. Stewart and Ward came together during the race, with Ward spinning into the wall.
Photo from seattletimes.com
As amateur video shows, after the accident Ward exited his Super Sprint Car walked down on to the track and began heatedly gesturing at two other cars, including Stewart’s. One car narrowly missed hitting him while Stewart’s car didn’t, striking and apparently running over Ward who was pronounced dead shortly thereafter at the hospital.
Another stark reminder of the very real dangers of racing, this incident is being called an accident by Stewart’s team in an official statement, according to NBCsports.com. Having watched the video of the incident, it’s clear that Ward was behaving recklessly walking and standing on the racing surface as cars lapped the circuit under caution.
You see this sort of heat of the moment reaction in other series including IndyCar as angry drivers express their displeasure on track at other offending drivers before being herded away by safety crew members. This behavior is extremely dangerous, as events last night graphically illustrate.
It must be kept in mind that no matter how irresponsible the deceased driver’s actions were – and this seems inarguable – Tony Stewart is far from in the clear on this. The local authorities are investigating and Stewart has been cooperative according to reports.
But it’s now before the District Attorney in New York, who has the authority to not only investigate but also bring charges against Stewart if any are warranted. In high profile cases resulting in death such as this, it isn’t uncommon for charges to be filed.
Various charges, including involuntary manslaughter, aren’t out of the question for Stewart. The sentence for involuntary manslaughter in New York is 3-15 years imprisonment. Time will tell if Stewart faces charges and the possible accompanying legal sanctions. We’ll be watching this developing story.
In the event of potential prosecution and even incarceration, Stewart may have to become accustomed to new meanings for previously familiar terms, including locked up, smoke, wife, hole, throttle, choke and pits.
Seriously though, this tragedy calls into question the wisdom of a star the magnitude of Tony Stewart racing in minor leagues such as Sprint Cars. While he may have enjoyed it and given local fans something to cheer for, there’s no doubt that doing so exposes himself to incidents such as last night’s as well as to the potentially dire consequences that may follow.
In the aftermath of last night’s sad events, there is no doubt that both the Stewart-Haas Team and NASCAR badly mishandled their reaction to the news of Ward’s death. By initially saying that Stewart would race today at Watkins Glen before reversing course this morning, the team looks inept and insensitive from a PR point of view. Commenting that they saw nothing that would prevent Stewart from racing today, NASCAR has some serious explaining to do, starting with the Ward family.
Could Tony Stewart’s racing career and empire be in serious jeopardy? With the possibility of legal prosecution looming, it doesn’t look good for the former Indy 500 driver at all. Speculation now is that his racing career is over. Now in a statement NASCAR is distancing itself from Stewart only hours after making the opposite call. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
NASCAR has a serious PR problem on its hands and has to be considering the damage that’s being done to its brand. Misstep follows misstep from all parties involved, especially the series and team.