While just about everybody else was throwing in their two cents about the Kevin Ward, Jr. tragedy and the ensuing grand jury case against Tony Stewart, I chose to hold back, sensing that adding my opinion to the fray wasn’t helping the Wards any in their healing process.
Ward’s aunt Wendi Ward’s open letter in USA Today on Sunday changed my perspective. As frustrated as I had been about how the case had been handled, the letter gave me some insight into how much more difficult it has been for the Ward family.
There are videos all over the Internet documenting Ward’s death; so in a way, it feels like everyone has watched this tragedy. But in another sense, it’s like no one has really watched it.
The case all comes down to one moment, really: why did Tony Stewart jump hard on the accelerator right before he hit Ward? The Ward family may never get the answer they’re looking for, but Ontario (N.Y.) County District Attorney Michael Tantillo instead pretended it didn’t happen.
“The videos did not demonstrate any aberrational driving by Tony Stewart until the point of impact with Kevin Ward, at which point his vehicle veered to the right up the track as a result of the collision,” Tantillo said (per CNN). “Prior to that, his course was pretty straight.”
What in the hell was he watching? In a case that came down to one critical moment, the moment was either missed or ignored.
Last Wednesday, the Ward family issued a statement, found on Sporting News, after Stewart was cleared of any wrongdoing.
“Our son got out of his car during caution while the race was suspended,” the statement read. “All the other vehicles were reducing speed and not accelerating except for Stewart, who intentionally tried to intimidate Kevin by accelerating and sliding his car towards him, causing this tragedy.”
The family has a point. Why else was Stewart accelerating? I’ve heard the excuse that he was just trying to get away from Ward. That doesn’t fly, though, because if that’s the excuse, that’s insinuating that Stewart doesn’t know how sprint cars work. That’s saying one of the greatest drivers of all time didn’t realize the back end of his car would step out when he jumped on the gas.
In no way am I saying that Stewart intentionally hit Ward. I certainly don’t believe that, but I do think he tried to intimidate — as Stewart always does at all levels of racing. Check out YouTube if you need any proof.
On top of the case’s critical moment being ignored, Tantillo decided to publicize that Ward had marijuana in his system at a level that could’ve impaired his judgment, essentially linking Ward’s reckless behavior that night with being a pothead — as if he jumped from his car, angry with Stewart, and walked down the track because he was high and didn’t really know where he was. It’s ridiculous. The toxicology report shouldn’t even have been mentioned. He made poor decisions that night that put him in danger, but smoking pot wasn’t one of them.
Meanwhile, the Ward family has had to endure all of this mess, and in their responses have been framed as bitter since Stewart was let off the hook.
Amy Henderson, a writer on this site who I have a lot of respect for, wrote in a column on Sept. 25 that sided heavily with Stewart, “It is sad that Ward’s family can’t seem to accept his accountability.”
They do need to accept Kevin Ward’s accountability, but how do we know they haven’t? It’s possible to accept the responsibility for their loved one, while searching for justice at the same time. Wendi Ward’s letter was written because they haven’t received it so far. They’ve watched the real issues get ignored, while Kevin Ward’s reputation has been damaged and he’s the only person being held accountable.
Call Wendi Ward’s letter bitter if you want, but to me it’s just bubbling frustration from a family trying their best to heal in an impossible situation. They’re just looking for answers.
“Why was the toxicology report even an issue?” Wendi Ward asks in her letter. “Seems to me the wrong man was on trial. Tell me why Tony Stewart was not taken in for testing, why his car wasn’t impounded. Tell me how a man the size of Kevin can make a sprint car turn to the right on impact. Tell me how a lap before (the incident) everything was fine, but the following lap was poor lighting. Tell me how a NASCAR star totally forgot what caution means.
“Maybe he should get a different headset so he is able to hear on the radio that the car in caution is up high, so go low. Or was he low until he rounded the corner and saw Kevin Jr. standing up for himself?
“I guess we will never know why all of this was not taken into consideration. Or will we never know why a fellow driver did not check on this young man or his family? Or do we know why? I do, because I have seen the video. It’s there, and it’s real.”
The video is everywhere, and it’s real. Everyone has seen it, yet the Wards must feel like no one has seen it at all.
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What were YOU watching? What’s more, what discussions have you had with ANYONE who has raced a Sprint Car? If you did, then you would know there was nothing unusual about Stewart’s acceleration or his path. What was abberational was a wrecked driver getting out his car and running into an oncoming parade of cars. I hope if you realize your dreams of racing, you will use better judgment.
Well Brett, this sad story has been very divisive and a few of your fellow writers have for the past couple of months been besides themselves over the fact that Nascar driver Tony Stewart was even subjected to due process. With that said, was the Grand Jury decision correct??? Who knows. But I respect the fact that the process of the Grand Jury was given. Did they make the right decision, they are human after all, but their word is also final for the criminal avenue, done deal.
I, in my gut when I heard of it, thought right away “Tony’s temper got the best of him”. Only Tony knows for sure. My opinion and millions of other “experts” doesn’t mean a thing. I wonder if this had been Kasey Kahne or Jeff Burton, would this have even gotten this far in the media? Rightly or wrongly you are judged by your past/present actions and no amount propping up what a “great guy” Tony is or how big the pity party for Tony is, it doesn’t make change one’s mind of his past behavior or what people’s opinion of what they saw on the video. Money does talk in the celebrity and wealthy world, hopefully this wasn’t the case.
Quite a bit of food for thought here. Well written.
I agree with everything kb said (below). They were my first thoughts as well. Tony’s past actions and demeanor opened up a lot of doubt and it should be a lesson to all athletes.
With that said, I have to believe that due process was served and the end result was correct. They called witnesses that had experience in sprint cars and races and I have to believe that, for the most part, the truth came out. I do however think the whole pot thing is a red-herring and should have been, at most, a footnote to the entire incident.
Got to agree with Bill and KB. People know you because of your actions. Whether Stewart was at fault or not his past behavior speaks for itself.
There’s nothing unusual in the Ward family feeling the way they do. Nor will there be anything unusual in their seeking to address the issue in the only way they see possible.
As for the rest of us I doubt that either camp will change its opinions.
Bill B… It doesn’t matter if they found it in his blood, urine, hair sample, or nail clippings…it was there. Folks want to qualify this entire mess with “how much” or “how long” he had been doing it..it doesn’t matter… It’s a sorry fact.. For Kevin, his family and Stewart. I’m sure there are a few buddies of his who know his habits..and that testimony may very well be in the sealed testimony the public is not privvy to. Kevin made very poor choices…choices I don’t believe he would have made had his mind been totally clear . For his Aunt to say MJ is legal in some states and those folks drive.. Thats just really reaching for an excuse… I’m sorry and sick for all involved..I truly am…but at some point you have to realize Kevin made his own choices that night…that is a fact no one can debate…he made his own choices.
Problem is Bill, Brett seems to think that Tony had a motive for scaring the kid or whatever you want to call what he is accusing him of and going by Tony’s past to make this accusation. All because he was touched by an aunt of Kevin Ward who is obviously in denial about the whole thing. Tony had no motive. And to hear the aren’t talk like their the only victim here. She apparently didn’t read the media accounts of it calling Tony a killer and the court of public opinion had him guilty of murder beore they even had all the facts. Me thinks Brett is just trying to get people to click on his article.
Brett – you are high.
Let me see if I get what you’re saying…it’s okay if ( let’s say for example Kyle Larson) smokes pot…he gets behind the wheel and races…he and (let’s say Jeff Gordon) touch on track taking out Larson. Larson gets out of his car.. And during caution runs down the track avoiding cars as he’s looking for Gordon. Gordon manages to miss Larson head on but has to swerve slightly and it catches Larson under back wheels and Larson is killed. Would you be less likely to blame a more evened tempered Gordon? Would you still say no big deal Larson was on drugs? Come on…the reason you wrote this article is because you don’t like Stewart….he irritates you with his arrogance and maybe you’re one of the reporters he’s called out for asking dumb questions. Do you know anything about sprint racing? A young man lost his life due to his own bad choices. How many times before this had Kevin raced high? How do the other Sprint drivers feel knowing they’d been racing with another driver high at 100 mph? I feel very sad for the Wards… I have kids Kevin’s age…it would paralyze me to lose one…but sometime they will have to come to terms Kevin made his own choices…
Just wondering, since you are calling Brett out for his opinion based on the assumption that it’s “because he doesn’t like Stewart”.
Are you by chance a Stewart fan? If your answer is “yes” then your opinion must be as invalid as Brett’s since you are just as biased, only the other way.
If you can say “no, I don’t particularly care for Stewart but I don’t dislike him either” then I’d give your opinion more validity.
I like stewart as much as any other driver on the track.. My point being it sounds like this writer doesn’t. I love racing..stewart being absent this and last season has not changed that I try and watch all the races..so stewart is not my passion..he is a talented driver whom I doubt very much would race high..he seems to have too much respect for the sport. My point being is somewhere along the line fingers need to stop pointing and the Wards (as we ALL must at times in our lives) need to look at their sons actions as what HE chose to do…no one made him smoke pot.. No one made him get out of his car… And no one made him Chase Stewart down the track..those were his..and his decisions alone…as far as the pot smoking being no big deal..take a poll across all types of racing venues … Ask drivers and see how many would knowingly want to race with a driver who’d been smoking pot that day or two days earlier…
Fair enough. Thanks for the clarification (not that you owed me any).
I just think that no matter when Kevin smoked the pot the Wards are trying desperately to sweep it under the carpet…I doubt it was Kevin’s first dally with the substance. (Although I don’t know..if it was his first time smoking it may account for his bad choices) ..I’m just saying in my mind the fact he did smoke pot pretty much negates anything anyone else did on the track. ..including stewart. I’ll be honest in my much younger days I did try pot twice..it made me extremely paranoid.. Once I wanted to jump off a boat and swim home! I had to be restrained from jumping! So all the folks saying it just makes you mellow have no idea what they’re talking about!
I’d have to know if they found the substance in his blood stream or only in his urine to have an opinion as to how much that factor mattered. If it was the blood stream then I agree whole heartedly – he was under the influence.
There has never been any verifiable indication that Stewart’s car accelerated. I could not hear it on that video. I know the cars need throttle to turn, so if he was trying to swerve to miss him, that would be expected. What I saw, is the kid practically leaped into Stewart’s car. Suicide.
A wrecked driver running into an oncoming parade of cars is ‘aberrational’? Do you remember Tony Stewart being dragged alongside another car at Martinsville because he thought he got wrecked on purpose and was reaching in the window to try to get at the driver? We used to see that on almost a weekly basis in Cup racing.
Brett, while I’d agree that we don’t have all the facts of what happened that night, it’s because we weren’t privy to them. It was the Grand Jury that received the results of a long and thorough investigation. It was the Grand Jury that heard many witnesses testify and were able and did question them. Witnesses included drivers, track personnel, volunteers, police, 2 accident reconstructionists, etc.. They also had two video tapes presented and both of those were enhanced.
You haven’t heard any of those witnesses and only saw one, unenhanced video. Yet, you declare that you know what happened and that unenhanced video is “proof”.
I don’t know if the Ward family has been able to see the investigation report or if they’ve been shown some of what was shown to the Grand Jury. But, they certainly won’t find it here.
Well said Dennis!! I agree wholeheartedly! The Grand Jury was called for a reason and I feel much better knowing that 23 people saw ALL the evidence and made a decision than letting people make poor decisions and write articles based on limited information. I think Brett is just looking to stir up a mess for more readability! Time to let things stand with the grand jury and let both the Ward Family and Mr. Stewart try to move on instead of stirring up more emotion!
After reading this article, it’s a good thing that there were 23 members of the Grand Jury and not just a couple of people that would have Brett’s view. I get the impression that DWI’s are no big deal to Brett.
Kevin Ward made a bad choice. You can’t put your hand in a tiger’s mouth and then complain that the tiger bit your hand off. How difficult is this to understand Brett.
Anyone who says that sprint cars fishtail under caution is an has never seen a race!!! Watch the video and stop it right before he hits Kevin. The rear end is slid to the right and the front wheels are turned to the right. Turning the front wheels to the right is the counter-steer in a fishtail, NOT STEERING TO AVOID HIM. Then right on contact the rear-end jumps back to the left.
This was the perfect storm. Neither one had intent to harm, Kevin paid the ultimate price, and now Tony has to own up to his actions that lead to this tragedy. Both are equal to blame because if either one of them didn’t do what they did, this whole thing would not have happened.
I think the open letter from Kevin’s aunt poses alot of unanswered questions that I think deserve to get answered.
All anyone has to do is turn their volume way up as they watch the video. That’s what made it crystal clear to me that Tony’s throttle was hit well before the impact. Something not right there. Ward’s body ends up twisted very badly. If it was all his fault, he would have had to have thrown himself at the car during that acceleration, which makes no sense at all. And if he did, wouldn’t that point have come up? Very strange how secretive it is and that Tony’s not allowed to discuss what happened at that point. Seems, as obvious as it looks to many, it would be logical and smart to allow and have Tony explain what he saw and why he accelerated, What many believe they saw clearly, needs diffused, if it’s diffusible. Saying ‘It was 100% an accident’ only says Tony wasn’t trying to hit him. We already figured that.
There’s a big difference between “looking for answers” and refusing to accept answers you don’t like. There are several opinions as to what the video shows but there is one undeniable truth that it does show… Kevin Ward walked down the track and put himself in harm’s way. He is dead today because of that. It’s sad and it’s tragic but it’s the truth.
While he certainly did endanger himself, remember that SIX cars passed him safely once he had reached his final position. Make of that what you will.
Carl,I completely agree that Kevin was wrong, but he would still be alive if Tony didn’t hit the gas and fishtail towards him to intimidate him. We all know that Tony has one of the biggest egos on the track. It took “two” wrong actions to make this happen. As I said, “perfect storm”!!
Your assertion is based not only on an interpretation of the video not shared by the majority of the people who have watched it and understand the physics of sprint car racing, but an assumption of motive that you could not possibly know.
Considering the author of this column hasn’t see the video that the Ontario County DA, Sheriff and Grand Jury saw. I think its just as much of a leap to conclude that Tony hit the accelerator from the only public video. To me this article feels like “click bait” to rile up Tony Stewart fans.
This was an accident. Two things. 1. The fact Kevin Ward had a substance in his system does not erase the fact he was run over and tragically killed. It is the same as if a drunk person is crossing the road and is run over by a car. The intoxicated person should not have been in the road but that does not remove the driver who struck him from culpability. There are many people with Death by Vehicle convictions that resulted from an accident. No pun, but it is smoke and mirrors to shift the blame from the person operating the vehicle to the pedestrian. Race track or not.. 2. It was an accident.
Tony Stewart’s problem is his prior acts. Only he knows what happened.
There are no winners here.
Tony Stewart did not deserve to be charged with anything. His prison is getting up every day with this weighing heavily on his mind. Eternal purgatory. It is sad all the way around.
I agree, there are no winners here. There are however a few basic facts; had Ward stayed in his car it never would have happened. Secondly, how impaired was he as a result of the MJ. Hard to tell but I will simply say that over the thirty plus years I have been road racing motorcycles and cars the LAST thing I want to worry about on MY racetrack is somebody driving impaired in any way.
I am amazed that you think that it all comes down to the moment when Stuart hit the throttle. Is there any evidence that Stuart even hit the throttle? Surely you aren’t basing it on the sound of the public video, which isn’t even picking up Stuart’s car from across the track.
My 2 cents, when a car runs over something with a tire, the car is propelled in the air. The video does not show the sprint car ever bouncing up, but it does show it going down. As others in the comments have alluded to, it seems probable that Ward actually attempted to jump on Stuart’s car and failed to do so. In fairness to Ward’s aunt and the rest of his family it is unlikely they had a vanage point to see this and even less likely the witnesses were anxious to tell them. The DA’s comments about wanting to get all the witness’ statements on the record under oath seems very telling to me.
Iv’e read much BS over the years but this takes the cake. The Aunt must be as big a pothead as her nephew and yourself.
Having raced short tracks for many years, I can tell you that no F-ing way would I ever even consider getting into my race car stoned.
This was a tragic accident, pure and simple, totally brought on by the actions of a driver that could not control his emotions.
Adrenaline fueled anger (had it myself many times), just plain stupidity, or a pot high. Maybe a combination of all three.
Who really knows?
Thank you! I don’t get how so many folks downgrade the pot aspect… His aunt says it makes people mellow.. Well maybe Kevin was sleep walking then! How do the other drivers who were out on the track feel.. It could have been one of them on the hot seat.. Or dead. To me the beginning and end of the story is the “dope”..and I mean the smoker and the joint! I’m sorry and sad for those hurting .. But Kevin made his own choices…
Pinecrest Speedway, mid 70s. !00 lapper with an all-star field. The car behind Jerry Makara hit him and Makara hit Don Biederman and knocked him out of the race. Don went ballistic and went after Makara. It ended up with Makara driving around the track with Don standing in the rear window. Angry drivers do stupid things. Don Biederman was one of the top short-track drivers. He won the Oxford 250 (250 racing laps – cautions don’t count) in 1977. Second was Butch Lindley (76 winner) Third was Bob Pressley (78 winner). Fourth was Harry Gant. He made the cover of Stock Car Racing magazine with “The Ugliest Car in America.” He raced in the Daytona 500. His attitude helped him win but he wasn’t the most popular driver.
If you watch racing for a long time you see drivers do stupid things, even when they are in their cars. It’s surprising that tragedies don’t happen more often.