Question For Car Racing Fans (UPDATED)

So apparently a race car driver named Tony Stewart killed another driver who was out of his car and on the track during a yellow flag:

Ward and Stewart had bumped cars during an earlier lap, sending Ward’s racecar into an outside wall and prompting a caution flag. Ward then exited his racecar and approached on foot as Stewart’s racecar came around again. As Ward stood on the track and pointed at Stewart, Stewart’s racecar sounded as if it revved its engine then fishtailed, the right tire hitting Ward and dragging him under the car.

According to another driver on the track, Stewart clearly spun his wheels intentionally to intimidate the other driver:

A witness to the crash, the sprint car driver Tyler Graves, told The Sporting News that Stewart’s action led to the fatality.

“I know Tony could see him,” Graves said. “I know how you can see out of these cars. When Tony got close to him, he hit the throttle. When you hit a throttle on a sprint car, the car sets sideways. It set sideways, the right rear tire hit Kevin, Kevin was sucked underneath and was stuck under it for a second or two, and then it threw him about 50 yards.”

Anybody know enough about car racing to opine on the likelihood of the intentional versus accidental scenarios? As far as I can tell, BTW, the question of intent isn’t “to kill”, but “to intimidate by spinning out the wheels”. I guess if the latter intent is proven, then as a legal matter he Stewart committed at minimum negligent homicide, probably reckless, and maybe even depraved indifference, depending on the exact facts that can be proven.

UPDATE: So I’ve been doing some more reading about this, and the consensus seems to be that (1) Stewart likely didn’t see the other driver until the very last possible moment, because there were two other cars directly in front of his who swerved at the last minute to avoid him, and (2) Stewart likely hit the gas and spun his wheels as he approached the other driver in a last-ditch attempt to avoid him, not intimidate him, as sprint races are on intentionally slippery dirt tracks and the way you steer is by throttling and spinning the wheels.


  1. lorn says

    Doesn’t look like the guy driving did much to avoid the collision. On the other hand we are talking about the guy getting run over 1) choosing to confront high power cars on foot. 2) choosing the location of the confrontation to coincide with where cars have the least amount of control as they emerge from a turn in an only nominally controlled four wheel drift.

    It is also unclear what the confrontation between pedestrian and driver, at what was possibly the worse of any locations, was supposed to accomplish. How was that supposed to play out? Was the driver expected to stop, get out, and engage in fisticuffs while the rest of the drivers desperately sought to avoid them as they came out of the turn? Not to speak ill of the dead, but it looked to me like someone didn’t think that situation through.

    It also fails to follow dirt track protocol. Tradition is that you wait for the driver to get out of their car and remover their helmet and then you cold-cock them with your helmet swung as a club. A tire iron or large wrench would also be acceptable as long as the location means they were weapons of opportunity and not there as a result of premeditation.

  2. dhall says

    The driver of the wrecked car was wearing a black helmet and a black racing suit. The track was not well lit, and this race was held after dark, and the drivers probably get dirt and mud on the face shields of their helmets too since it’s a dirt track. These cars have no radios, and there are no spotters, as there would be for one of the bigger racing organizations, which meant that there was no way to warn the drivers that there was someone walking around on the track. Unfortunately, the driver of the wrecked car did not follow the rules and remain in his car until the safety team was there to assist. Although the track was under caution, the cars were still moving at probably 40 to 50 miles per hour, which is why you’re supposed to stay in your car. These dirt tracks also get pretty slick, and the cars tend to slide around on them, which is another reason you shouldn’t get too close to them on the track unless you’re in one too. If you watch the video, you can see that that driver of the wrecked car not only got out before the safety team arrived, but he also made his way down the track into the racing groove, where the other cars were still moving past relatively quickly. He was also just barely missed by a blue and white car–that driver just managed to swerve to miss him. I doubt very seriously that Tony Stewart saw the man on the track until it was too late because he was not very far behind that white and blue car. This was a tragic accident, and I hate to say it, but it was an avoidable one, for a couple of reasons. Maybe it’s time to restrict tracks like that to only daylight racing if the owners can’t or won’t upgrade the lighting.

  3. Alverant says

    But don’t cars have brakes? Did he even make an effort to stop even when he knew it was too late?

  4. Chebag says

    Why do we give even the slightest thought to redneck on redneck violence? That’s what those people do. It’s expected. We should send them all back to where they came from. The British Isles.

  5. kraut says

    “We should send them all back to where they came from. The British Isles.”

    You lead the way.

  6. andrewkiener says

    @3. Alverant,

    Brakes on a sprint car on a dirt track are useful mainly for changing the angle of your car as it slides through a turn. Even at yellow-flag speeds, stopping in this situation wasn’t a possibility. Once Stewart saw Ward standing there, the best he could do was try to avoid him.

  7. Chebag says

    Those people are just inherently violent and antisocial, kraut. See football hooligans, the IRA/troubles and Robb Roy. Just send them all back to where they came from and we’ll be better off.

  8. dhall says

    The sheriff in charge of the investigation has said several times that there are no charges pending and no evidence of any intent on the part of Tony Stewart. He’s added that the investigation is ongoing, but I doubt if he’d say repeatedly that no criminal charges are pending if he thought he’d have to change his tune about that. It was a terrible, tragic accident, but I suspect that the only reason why it’s national news is because Tony is a famous, championship driver in NASCAR’s upper division and a former Indycar winner as well. Anyone who thinks that the drivers just engage in “redneck on redneck violence” or that they’re “inherently violent and antisocial” really has no idea what he or she is talking about and hasn’t paid attention to how NASCAR has changed in the last 20 years.

  9. just curious says

    Since you clearly know absolutely nothing about this (and neither do I), why would you blog about it?
    Do you think an new and enlightening and informed discussion about this will take place? Here??
    Why wouldn’t you go to many very obvious forums and just do some reading?

    (Do you have any illusion that your blog in particular and FTB in general is not a safe space for fair even-handed discussions of any topic?)

  10. just curious says

    Heh. I actually wrote the first blogging module for a (then) popular perl framework back in 1999/200. This was before wordpress. About the same time as when blogger started. I was “inspired” by what Dave Winer had been doing and encouraged in my discussions by Aaron Swartz who cowrote the RSS spec that I was writing modules for and incorporating into the blog framework.

    What are your qualifications as a blogger? (Does this blog count?)

    I’m just curious though, one human to another, why you think this blog in particular is likely to have a useful discussion on the issue. Has that occurred yet?

  11. says

    Heh. Explain to me how coding some fucken webdouche bloggeing “module” in Perl has anything more to do with bloggeing than working in a fucken typewriter factory has to do with being a novelist.

    Anyway, I’m just curious, one human to another, why you think your opinion of this blogge, in particular, is of any interest to anyone anywhere at any time ever? (Well, other than the sheer comedy value of your hilarious Webdouche name dropping. Lemme guess: you also sparked bowls with Andreesen, right?)

  12. dhall says

    #3 – Braking at that point would have caused the car to slide on the slick track, leaving Stewart with no control over the direction the car was heading. As an update, the sheriff said yesterday that the investigation could last for as long as two more weeks, but didn’t change his previous statement that no criminal charges were pending. If you’re genuinely interested, I’d advise visiting Jayski’s website and clicking on the “Links” that can take you to some thoughtful, well-written articles.
    As someone said in a podcast article yesterday, one of the advantages of social media is that news is spread much faster than ever before. But two of the disadvantages are 1) unfounded rumors are also spread faster than ever before, and 2) people can’t resist blathering their opinions, shielded in many cases by anonymity, whether their opinion is worth anything or not. Which is why I’d recommend using Jayski’s to be guided to more worthwhile articles.

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