Stewart Won’t be Charged in Ward Sprint Car Tragedy.
It might be almost over legally, but the emotional wounds will take a long time to heal, if ever.
After viewing videos and listening to testimony, some of it from other Empire Super Sprint Series drivers who were also on the track at the time of the tragedy, it took at New York State Grand jury less than an hour to officially rule what most clear-headed fans, media and fellow drivers knew all along.
He did nothing wrong, and there won’t be any criminal charges laid against Tony Stewart in the August 9th tragedy at Canandaigua Speedway.
Kevin Ward Junior was accidently struck and killed by Stewart’s sprint car, as Ward moved to confront Stewart during a caution for an earlier incident where Kevin believed Tony had squeezed him into the wall.
And in a totally unexpected development, Ontario County New York District Attorney Michael Tantillo dropped the bombshell that Ward was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the mishap, enough to impair judgment.
That startling revelation means it will be close to impossible for the Ward family to bring civil action against Stewart, something many so-called legal experts put on the air on radio and television speculated might happen, as the Ward family sought “revenge” for the loss.
While the case was being reviewed, Stewart spent three weeks in seclusion and skipped three NASCAR Sprint Cup events following what he always called, and what has now proven to be, a tragic racing accident before quietly returning to the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit, visibly shaken by the drama.
The Stewart-Ward accident drew a wide range of emotion, outbursts and opinion. And some of the media treatment of the story went beyond the bounds of professionalism.
There was an insidious swell of anti-Stewart diatribe, most of it on social media, that because Stewart has a reputation of being somewhat of a “hot-head”, he had definitely gone off the rails again, and had intentionally run Ward down that night at Canandaigua Speedway.
I spent close to 24 hours on the air with media outlets, with some asking me repeatedly if I thought Tony had run the young man down on purpose.
I saw, heard and read far too many reports on this accident from some media outlets that obviously didn’t have clue-one about the sport, and without a firm grasp of the facts, went public with baseless and outrageous statements, simply to get a reaction.
The very notion of a NASCAR champion throwing away his career and life by committing such a crime was almost too ridiculous to discuss, and the local Sherriff, District Attorney, and now a Grand Jury have completely shot down that argument based on evidence.
Those who know Stewart, know Ward, and who understand sprint car racing, came to the conclusion almost immediately that Ward made a terrible mistake trying to confront Stewart on foot in the middle of a hot race track at night, and being close enough to try and touch Stewart’s car, Stewart couldn’t avoid striking and killing Ward.
Ward was so close to the moving cars that Chuck Hebing, the driver of the car directly ahead of Stewart had to swerve to the left to avoid hitting Ward himself!
Chuck’s testimony and that of others before The Grand Jury brought the cause of the tragedy into sharp focus. If anyone was to blame for the tragedy, it was Ward himself. He put himself in grave danger by standing in the middle of a hot race track.
Plain and simple.
The shocking revelation that Ward had enough marijuana in his system during the race to impair judgment underlines his momentary lapse of reason that sadly resulted in his loss of life.
It’s extremely unfortunate this case had to be drawn out so long for something that most had already decided was simply a bazaar racing accident weeks ago.
The emotional toll on Stewart and the Ward family is immeasurable.
Ward’s impairment discovery however, does open up another delicate issue, drug testing in motorsport.
The major racing sanctions, NASCAR, IndyCar, and Formula One all have very strict substance abuse rules and severe penalties for violators. The fact Ward was racing at a local/regional race track in a regional racing series impaired, should sound major alarms that substance abuse also needs to be addressed at this level of the sport.
If that means random drug testing of drivers to catch those trying to race “high”, so be it. If more stringent testing by local/regional racing sanctions stops a similar Stewart/Ward tragedy in the future, then those sanctions need to get busy and right now!
The real tragedy in all this?
Kevin Ward, a young and very talented race car driver was racing impaired and he made a very bad decision that cost him his life.
And Tony Stewart, in the wrong place at the wrong time, sadly, will never be the same again.