Tony Stewart, the three time NASCAR champion, unbelievably ran over another driver Saturday night on a dirt track in upstate New York.
A 20 year old man, Kevin Ward, Jr., had bumped his car with Stewart’s on a turn and was hurled into the wall. A caution flag was thrown. Ward got out of his car and waited for Stewart to pass on the next lap, angrily pointing his finger. According to witnesses, Stewart saw Ward and accelerated, hitting him with the right side of his car. This horrifying video showing the collision was posted on YouTube (WARNING – graphic violence depicted).
What Will Happen Next With This Tragic Case?
Local police are investigating the cause of the wreck. Criminal charges have not yet been filed, and I’m betting none will be, given the higher burden of proof they require — not to mention Stewart’s high profile, income (over $20M a year), and popularity.
The facts are murky at this point. What made young Ward jump out of his car and try to confront the superstar? Could Stewart have seen him racing at 100 mph, let alone stop in time? Ward was wearing a black jump suit and the track was dimly lit.
If the evidence supports it, a suit for wrongful death should be filed. The Ward family deserves to know what caused their son to die. It might be that both parties were at fault. This is the province of our civil justice system, to sort out opposite versions of how events happened and to assess liability and damages, if any.
Criminal and civil actions would also send a message to race car drivers like this hot head — and to the general public — that lethal violence on race tracks and on our roads will not be tolerated.
Why do some people become so irritable, and even violent, when they get behind the wheel?According to a columnist in The Washington Post, what happened on that dirt track
is the same rage that has killed others on roads and highways across this country when men behind the wheels of powerful machines feel like they have been wronged and need to retaliate.
It’s the same rage Tony Stewart modeled so infamously during his career. The rage that made him swing at other drivers who took him out of races. The rage that made him walk onto pit road and rifle his helmet off Matt Kenseth’s windshield two years ago… and nowhere is (that rage) more tolerated than in auto racing.
Dirt Track Races Need To Be Cleaned Up
While I’m on this horrific wreck, these dirt track races are far too dangerous. At least six people died in races on them just last year. There are no safety barriers, drivers often wear no protective helmets, cars have no protective netting or restraints, and owners do not enforce any safety standards. This is detailed in an article in the New York Times.
Stewart Has To Go
Finally, Stewart has a history of causing crashes and having temper tantrums when he races. Last year at this same track, he was involved in a multi-car pile up that sent several drivers to the hospital and admitted that his aggression had caused the crash. In 2012, he got out of his car on the Bristol Speedway after a wreck and threw his helmet at another driver. He then uttered some chilling words: “I learned my lesson there. I’m going to run over him every chance I’ve got from now ’til the end of the year. Every chance I’ve got.”
Stewart was also ordered to attend anger management classes after an altercation with a reporter. According to the Dallas Morning News sports columnist Tim Cowlishaw, he is “clearly fueled with more road rage than most.”
Stewart needs to stop racing for a while and get help. And NASCAR needs to better police its drivers, prohibit drivers from getting out of their cars after collisions, and continue to improve race track safety.