The Stewart/Ward Incident

Those of you who follow motor sports will likely have heard about this, but there are those who don’t, and may not have. On Saturday night (August 9, 2014) at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in Ontario County, New York, there was an accident in the sprint car race involving NASCAR driver Tony Stewart and a young 20 year old driver named Kevin Ward Jr., where Ward was pronounced dead on arrival at the local hospital.

I’m writing this post for two reasons. First, to offer condolences to the Ward family for their tragic loss, and second, to comment on the incident itself, as well as what I’m reading online from other people. 

To the Ward family, I pray that your grief be short and that you find yourselves closer to God, for He will comfort you while you move forward. The tragic loss of anyone is difficult, but when that loved one is so young, when parents see their child go before them, I can only imagine the pain in your hearts. 

For those who don’t know the details of this accident, the track is a half mile dirt surface; the sprint cars in this particular race are open wheeled in design and are quite fast. There were two parts to this incident. The first part is the crash of Kevin Ward Jr. where it appears that Tony Stewart drove him up into the wall causing Ward to crash. Ward was fine at this point. You can see the crash on the CBS News website. I can’t find a YouTube version without any annoying ads, so here’s the link: Be warned, this video may be disturbing to some viewers. 

When watching a replay of a racing accident, it’s important to watch, if available, the events leading up the the crash itself, and keep in mind that these drivers have no radios or spotters like other forms of motor sports. The replay starts with Stewart between turns 3 and 4 with Ward in front of him. By the time Stewart exits turn 4, he has a great deal of speed built up and makes a move to the inside to pass Ward. They continue down the front straightaway side by side. What people who want to blame Stewart aren’t seeing is the car driving slower by the inside wall. Tony saw it, and knowing that Ward is to his right, has to make a move to avoid hitting both cars while sliding around the corner the way sprint cars do.

By the time they enter turn 1, Ward knows Stewart is coming up beside him and stays high on the track to avoid him. Stewart avoids the car on the inside and while speed and momentum carry his car up the track it doesn’t appear to make contact with Ward’s car. Ward sees Stewart coming up the track at a higher rate of speed and slightly ahead of him. It’s my belief that Ward’s evasive move got him too close to the wall and the tires hit the concrete causing the car to spin.

The person filming the incident kept the camera on Ward. You can see he is okay, and when he exits the car he is clearly upset at Stewart. The race slows as the caution comes out for the spin so the cars are not travelling at full speed. Kevin Ward Jr. merely wants to display his displeasure toward Stewart because he believes Tony took him out. This is not uncommon in racing, by any means. But because of the dim lighting at the facility, and because Ward’s racing suit is almost entirely black, he would be difficult to see standing in the middle of the track. There’s also the fact that, if you watch the video carefully, the lighting at the track appears to be shining somewhat in the drivers’ eyes as they exit turn 1, so Stewart may have had difficulty seeing Ward until the last instant.

I’ve read on the Internet where people are accusing Tony Stewart of murder, of purposely gunning the throttle and trying to get close to Ward. I wasn’t there. These accusers weren’t there. But over the years I’ve watched enough replays, listened to enough analysis, and heard enough comments from drivers involved in accidents to know how fast these things can happen. I’ve even played around with a very realistic racing game enough to know – and yes, I know it’s just a game – how fast things can happen and what kind of reaction time is required to try and avoid these types of incidents. 

I’ve watched the replay of this accident enough to know that it was truly an accident. There was absolutely no intent to cause not only the accident that took Ward out of the race, but also no intent by Stewart to strike Ward with his car one lap later. And I seriously doubt he saw, let alone expected to see, Kevin Ward Jr. standing in the middle of the track that night.

Unless you’re in the car, you have no way to know what truly happened, and I include myself in that statement. These are my thoughts on the matter and are in no way influenced by anyone else. It’s just how I see it. I follow NASCAR enough to know Tony Stewart would never intentionally use a race car to cause bodily harm to another competitor.