A sampling of Tony Stewart’s Facebook site on Sunday indicated an overwhelming show of support for the embattled NASCAR star, as well as towards the family of Kevin Ward Jr., the driver killed Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
Meanwhile screenshots and the video itself made the rounds through the Internet and various television shows. By midday it had become the lead on the Drudge Report.
We see Kevin Ward Jr. in a black fire suit clearly flying off the handle. He spent what became the final moments of his life angrily gesturing and pointing towards Tony Stewart while climbing down a muddy embankment. It was not unlike Stewart himself seeking out Kenny Irwin in 1999.
Ward was an irritated driver at a dimly lit track with shoes not made for walking and his racing helmet still on. It was a recipe for disaster, the driver could have very easily stumbled and fell into the path of oncoming traffic. Ward was nearly clipped by another driver before the No. 14 of Stewart arrived.
There were horrible wrongs on both fronts, you hear an engine roar and see a plume of smoke as Stewart accelerated in a catastrophic split-second decision, he wound up hitting Ward, running him over and leaving him lying on the track with what turned out to be life-ending injuries.
Instantly it became one of the most WTF moments in sports history. It has taken its place alongside Ron Artest at the Palace of Auburn Hills, Todd Bertuzzi breaking the neck of Steve Moore in the name of retaliation during the waning moments of a lopsided hockey game, or even going way back, Kermit Washington rearranging the face of a charging Rudy Tomjanovich.
We also learned this was not the first time Stewart wreaked havoc at the Canandaigua track. A year ago he had triggered a massive wreck causing serious injuries to female competitor Alysha Ruggles. So within a year at the same track, a 19-year old girl has suffered a broken back and a 20-year old has been killed at the hands of Stewart.
It is well documented Stewart enjoys racing at backwater tracks, but is competing against drivers young enough to be his sons or daughters right? It would be like Phil Hellmuth deciding to drop in on a neighborhood card game out of boredom and going just as bonkers as he would during the World Series of Poker.
The fallout phase from the tragedy has brought racing into mainstream news discussions. NASCAR has to decide whether Stewart should be allowed to race in sanctioned events the rest of the season or whether he should even be allowed on track property. Would an everyday driver be allowed to keep his personal license after losing his cool and harming a pedestrian? It is a valid comparison.
Then there is the sponsorship question. Sponsors pays the bills and allows Stewart to compete on a weekly basis.
As the Watkins Glen race was being run Sunday, Stewart’s primary sponsor Bass Pro Shop released a statement showing support for Stewart and offering condolences to the Ward family.
The Stewart-Haas Racing operation foots the bills for four Cup drivers – Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick – all of whom have had their own history of anger management issues on various levels through their careers. If sponsors start bailing not only on Stewart, but his teammates, staff will be let go, with the entire operation ultimately suffering.
By the way, anyone wonder the reasoning behind Kevin Ward’s display of anger? Maybe it was growing up watching Harvick, Kyle Busch, Stewart, Carl Edwards, etc. displaying the same type of behavior.
Then there is the legal question. Stewart may avoid criminal charges, but civil suits from the Ward family will come soon enough. Racers often promise “payback,” Stewart will find that term directed towards him in its most literal form.
Amazingly, Stewart reportedly planned on racing Sunday in the aftermath of the tragedy. That would have been a horrible idea for multiple reasons. Thankfully, he opted out of the race.
Where there’s “Smoke,” there’s fire, and Tony Stewart will get plenty of it in the days, weeks, months and years to come. Sadly, he will forever be defined by his role on an August night on a backwater track in upstate New York.