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Caulton Tudor

Stewart incident could change racing's framework

Posted August 11

Where the majority of the blame resides in the Saturday death of race car driver Kevin Ward, Jr. may never be fully known, but you can bet industry insiders are praying that issue isn’t eventually determined by a jury in a wrongful death lawsuit against Tony Stewart.

Such a chain of events would have a massive impact on the manner in which the billion-dollar auto racing business is managed, regulated and financially underwritten.

Either way, sweeping rules changes are on the way relating to driver behavior during, before and after events. On that point, there’s no doubt. Irrational conduct soon will be met with previously unimaginable reprimands, suspensions and fines.

Out of self defense alone, NASCAR will be the first to act on that front. The organization had no role in what happened when Ward was struck and killed by Stewart during a sprint car event at the Canandaigua, NY, Motorsports Park.

But the 43-year-old Stewart is a NASCAR regular, and right or wrong, NASCAR has a stake in the way an investigation into the tragedy unfolds. So do all other national and international sanctioning bodies. The ramifications are universal in that respect.

There is no question that Ward was wrong to exit his car following a wreck that involved Stewart. A caution flag had been thrown, but the 20-year-old Ward had to have known that leaving the cockpit to attempt an on-track confrontation with Stewart was asking for trouble.

But what happened after that will be the motivating force of what happens next.

Tyler Graves, a driver friend of Ward who attended the race, told The Sporting News that “Tony could see” Ward before the incident. “When Tony got close to him, he hit the throttle,” Graves was quoted as saying.

If others who saw the episode make similar statements -- especially any drivers actually might have been in the immediate part of the racetrack -- Stewart could face serious criminal charges, including manslaughter or even second-degree murder.

But even if it doesn’t come to that, Ward’s family could have grounds for a wrongful death case that might result in a big settlement. Ward, who began his racing career at age 16, was considered to have a bright future.

Stewart has won almost $116 million in NASCAR Sprint Cup races alone.

(The NASCAR Sprint Cup division, by the way, has nothing to do with sprint cars, the body style of the cars driven by Ward and Stewart on Saturday.)

Obviously, Stewart actually receives only a fraction of the winnings and on some teams, the drivers are simply salaried employees by the team owner.

But by all logic, Stewart is a wealthy man and drives cars displaying corporate logos of multi-million dollar companies. The potential impact of a tense, sensationalized court case involving Stewart and perhaps other drivers would be precisely the sort of exposure image-minded corporate sponsors want to avoid.

Then there’s the fact that during most of his career, Stewart has been something of a polarizing competitor. His occasionally furious driving style and intense personality are reflected in his “Smoke” nickname. One of his primary sponsors has been “Bad Boy” Buggies utility vehicles.

It’s impossible to predict how all of this will impact Stewart, his family and his career. But one thing is certain, auto racing is potentially on the verge of a landscape shift if there’s a court case of any kind.

The rules regarding responsibility and financial accountability may soon be radically revised for everyone -- drivers, owners, tracks and regulatory officials.

47 Comments

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  • wasone Aug 12, 2:29 p.m.

    There are more empty seats at a Nascar race now than in the last 30 years. Sponsors are getting harder and harder to find. Nascar continues to regulate more and more and the ticket prices continue to soar. Just another chapter in the book of "The Death of Nascar" by Bill France jr.

  • SAY 'WHAT" ONE MORE TIME! Aug 12, 10:16 a.m.


    tayledAug 12, 7:34 a.m.


    I have held for a long time, and still do, that racing is a waste of resources. I know they don't use the fuel we use, but think of all the tires, the oil that goes to produce them.
    ______________________________

    With close to a BILLION cars in the world I don't think the dozens, hundreds, even thousands of race cars on tracks is a countable portion of tire and oil consumption. If your point had any validity, any sport/recreational activity would be a waste since it wasn't "producing" anything. And their fuel comes from the exact same place ours does. The finish is different but it's a fossil fuel nonetheless

  • uBnice Aug 12, 8:40 a.m.

    “Tony could see” Ward before the incident. “When Tony got close to him, he hit the... View More

    — Posted by PanthersFan45

    Even under the assumption that the video holds up, there is no reason to believe Stewart was trying to injure or kill the guy.

    I can imagine that Stewart was trying to send the guy a message to not be on the track by revving his engine via throttle while driving past him. I mean, he didn't have a horn to blow. And then an accident happened. Stewart's decision went wrong. All in a split second!

    This incident is a tragedy for both parties involved.

  • tayled Aug 12, 7:34 a.m.

    I have held for a long time, and still do, that racing is a waste of resources. I know they don't use the fuel we use, but think of all the tires, the oil that goes to produce them.

  • T Cobb Aug 12, 6:57 a.m.

    GOOD LORD!!!! What will the liberals do to NASCAR if they get their hands in it?!!!

    — Posted by stymieindurham

    Obvious, ban the cars.

    — Posted by jmcdow2792

    lol....New sponsor would be Diapers for Drivers Inc. & no driving above 45, 35 in the turns.

  • jmcdow2792 Aug 12, 5:26 a.m.

    GOOD LORD!!!! What will the liberals do to NASCAR if they get their hands in it?!!!

    — Posted by stymieindurham

    Obvious, ban the cars.

  • harleygrrlnc Aug 11, 7:44 p.m.

    Your temper should stay in the car, there always another race to try to get even! I have come close to getting hit going into the pit, being let in by a race official at night. Your life is in your hands when you sign that form. Trust no one but yourself. This did not have to happen! RIP

  • PanthersFan45 Aug 11, 7:39 p.m.

    “Tony could see” Ward before the incident. “When Tony got close to him, he hit the... View More

    — Posted by PanthersFan45

    "..but I think the driver Kevin Ward shouldn't have walked into the general path of the cars... View More

    — Posted by cecil822

    FYI - try reading down all the posts and there are many blaming Stewart. Its a general comment on an opinion board. Take your trolling elsewhere where your brain level matches it.

  • cecil822 Aug 11, 7:21 p.m.

    “Tony could see” Ward before the incident. “When Tony got close to him, he hit the... View More

    — Posted by PanthersFan45

    "..but I think the driver Kevin Ward shouldn't have walked into the general path of the cars while the caution was out.
    Read more at .."

    Gee, you think so!?

  • PanthersFan45 Aug 11, 7:16 p.m.

    “Tony could see” Ward before the incident. “When Tony got close to him, he hit the throttle,” Graves was quoted as saying.

    If further evidence (probably other videos) surface to back up this claim in particular then there may be some real trouble for Tony Stewart. However, I think this will be difficult to prove and may result in some rule changes. Just my own personal thoughts here, but I think the driver Kevin Ward shouldn't have walked into the general path of the cars while the caution was out.

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