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Caulton Tudor

Stewart incident could change racing's framework

Posted August 11, 2014

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.

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  • outdoor592000 Aug 11, 2014

    They should have a stiff fine for exiting your car. Not a fan of Stewart, but the guy put himself at risk getting out the car and walking down the track towards the cars. Simply stupid move. Do the fighting in the pits............not walking on the track.

  • letsgocanes Aug 11, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Well, you should exit a wrecked vehicle ASAP because you don't know what damage may have been done to fuel systems or the like, but I understand your point remains, your only actions should be to move to safety and anything else should certainly be penalized. It's an tragic case of darwinism at it's best.

  • Ijaz Fahted Aug 11, 2014

    I don't follow the sport, but getting out of a car to confront another driver who is on the track and in a car is just not smart. I know things are heated in a situation like that, but the track is for cars and unless you are in one you have no business out there.

    I certainly hope that the allegations of Stewart hitting the throttle are untrue for his sake.

  • jmcdow2792 Aug 11, 2014

    It is pretty obvious that NASCAR promotes the fighting and verbal altercations to drum up fan passions. Some of the fights are so obviously scripted that it is funny. This is what needs to end. If the sport has to have that to survive, then it doesn't need to survive.

  • sjb2k1 Aug 11, 2014

    wral your caption is wrong. this track is in canandaigua ny

  • uncw05 Aug 11, 2014

    View quoted thread

    The pic is from a different track.

  • Guy Percy Aug 11, 2014

    Drivers have been getting out of their cars and making their feelings known for ages. Tony actually climbed into Kenny Irwin's car at Martinsville to let him know how he felt.(Kenny died in an accident at Loudon about 14 years back). Is this stupid? Yep. Should NASCAR become a nanny type organization? Not if they want any of their already dwindling fan base to remain. If a driver is too dense to know that charging another car is risky then they shouldn't be driving to start with.

  • Danny Cole Aug 11, 2014

    I can't believe how many are giving Tony a Free Pass on this. No on must have ever driven a rear wheel drive vehicle on dirt before. It doesn't take much to kick the rear out on dirt. Goose the engine and turn the car to the right and the rear will kick out to the left. That is exactly what Tony did and he killed the kid. NASCAR has a vested interest because in a civil suit the lawyers will go after SHR which is valued in the 80-100 million range. Now supposedly this team is owned by Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, but I have always stated it is owned by Rick Hendrick. If that is the case and it is exposed that Rick owns the team then all the championships and wins since SHR was formed will be null and void since you are only allowed to own 4 cars in NASCAR. Look for SHR to be sold by the end of the year, probably to Dale Junior and Tony out as a driver.

  • jackal10782 Aug 11, 2014

    Even if Stewart hit the throttle he was trying to avoid a confrontation with Ward. There is an ambulance chasing lawyer on every corner. But everyone involved with the race Saturday knows deep on their heart that Ward's untimely death was a racing accident.

  • dvdcts Aug 11, 2014

    While I am truly saddened by this!
    Would this be as big of a story if it were any other driver? Tony is worth a lot of money so it becomes a BIGGER story.

    All kinds of things go on in a race car during caution laps. Turning fans on and off glanceing at gauges and such. He may not have seen someone who almost ran out in front of the blue car first.

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