In the past year, I made every effort *not* to publicly comment on the events that took place on August 9, 2014 at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in Western New York State. Having grown up in an area steep in racing tradition and having spent more than my share of Saturday nights sitting in Turn 1 of our local track breathing in the fumes and listening to the roar of the engines echo off the landscape, I have always loved racing. Today, I have friends who race at the same track we spent our teen years at, even family who race there as well. I have watched some horrific wrecks and was even witness to a driver dying as his car hit Turn 1.
In the beginning, I could understand the anger in the comments made by Kevin Ward, Sr. He and his family were hurting, seeing the hopes and dreams of someone they loved so deeply cut short in an instant. Even after the criminal investigation was over and the grand jury decided not to charge Tony Stewart, fans could still understand their emotions. Yet the grand jury decision was due in no small part to the two major facts that Kevin Ward, Sr. seems to conveniently or selectively ignore:
- Kevin Ward, Jr. got out of his car
- Kevin Ward, Jr. was under the influence of marijuana
We have all watched the video and there are just some pieces of the puzzle that make us ask, “What in the hell is Kevin Ward, Sr. thinking?” I can certainly relate to his pain; my family has suffered the loss of a few young and vibrant loved ones who died in accidents where they took chances, risks that were directly related to their deaths. It is worth noting that each were doing something that they loved, just like Kevin Ward. Jr.
Here are some rhetoricals that I can’t seem to work through …
Would Kevin Ward, Jr. have gotten out of his car and gone after the 14 Car if it hadn’t been Tony Stewart behind the wheel?
Here is where it gets down to the heart of the matter. Did Ward, Jr. have a history of getting out of his car when it wrecked, in direct violation of track rules and regulations? Had he done this before? Was this standard operating procedure for him? According to reports, he had been involved in racing since his age was in single digits so it would go without saying that at some point it would have (or should have) been pounded into his head that you do not get out of the car until the safety crew arrives.
We’ve been told that Ward, Jr. was a charismatic individual, it’s quite possible that he felt he had something to prove with Stewart on the track with him that night. Going after Stewart would have been something to talk about after the fact over a few beers in the pits. Probably a pat on the back from his dad as well.
Did Kevin Ward, Jr. get his hotheadedness from his father?
Ward, Sr. and other family members have not shied away from the press or social media in the past year. They have been almost belligerent to the facts that came out of the official investigation.They clearly want to place blame anywhere but on Ward, Jr. Even after the video, when slowed down and analysed, shows Ward Jr. making his way down the apron waiting for Stewart to come around under the caution. Once Stewart is in view, Ward. Jr. goes even further down the apron and some believe even grabbed on to the back right wing of Stewart’s car which caused Stewart’s car to fishtail toward Ward. Jr. causing him to get caught under the back tires. The video clearly shows the back right wing being brought down, most likely by the weight of Ward, Jr.’s body.
Now, putting these three things together, I just can’t grasp how the Ward Family can place blame on Tony Stewart. Did Tony tell Ward, Jr. to go against track rules and get out of his car? Did Tony tell him to make his way down the apron as cars passed? Did Tony tell him to come closer still to the 14 Car as it drove by under caution? And, did Tony tell him to grab the wing of the 14 Car?
Did it ever occur to the Ward Family that the marijuana might have caused Ward, Jr.’s initial accident with Stewart?
Does the Ward Family really want us to completely forget that Ward. Jr had “enough marijuana in his system to impair his judgement”? (Source: here and here – added 8/13/15) Is it possible that his impaired judgement and not Tony Stewart caused the initial accident and then, to literally add insult to injury, the impaired Ward gets out of his car, heads down the apron into on coming traffic and once Stewart’s car comes into view, he goes even further down the apron and actually grabs Stewart’s car?
Yet, all of this is Tony’s fault? I supposed Tony gave him the pot too?
Who knew that Ward, Jr. had smoked pot before getting into his race car?
These are the tough questions that no reporter wants to ask. Based on lab reports, Ward, Jr. would have had to ingest the pot within a few hours before his death. That means, most likely, he smoked it at the track. I hope Aunt Wendi, who claims that Ward, Jr. was with family for the 10 hours leading up to his death grasps the levity here. Clearly, Wendi and Ward, Sr. are brother and sister – facts cloud their version of the truth. According to the toxicology reports, at the time of death, the pot in Ward, Jr.’s system was at a level that is defined as “judgement impaired.” So, someone had to smell it on him, someone had to see his red eyes or the other physical signs that he was high. Did Ward, Jr’s pit crew and friends know he was high when he got behind the wheel? He would have had to smoke it sometime after racing officially started at 7 pm. If reports are correct that he died between 9 and 10 pm, the Ward Family has a rough road ahead if they want a jury to believe that Stewart was directly responsible for their son’s death. It would be hard to believe that no one at the track knew that Ward, Jr. had recently smoked pot or quite possibly smoked it there. Did his family know he smoked on occasion?
Now, the Ward Family has filed a civil suit against Stewart, just days before the one year anniversary of their son’s death. According to USA Today;
“The suit claims that Stewart caused the accident that crashed Ward Jr.’s car initially, and citing his “unique race car and driving skills” and “extreme skill and control over his car” acted recklessly in revving his engine and not steering clear of Ward Jr. in the aftermath as other cars had. Ward Jr. died of blunt force trauma.”
“The suit does not state what the Ward family is seeking in damages. The suit contains four actions: wrongful death; terror, pain and suffering prior to death; intentional/reckless conduct; and gross negligence.”
“New York law dictates that the suit can only collect for the future loss of expected earnings or care Ward Jr. would have generated. No figure is included in the suit.”
It is my guess that the Ward Family is banking on the fact that Stewart is going to settle before going through the publicity of a jury trial in the middle of racing season.
I fail to see how the court case has legitimacy if Ward, Jr. was only 20 years-old and not financially responsible for his parents. If Ward, Jr. had a wife or children, then yes, the legal system would expect his future earnings to support his family, but not his parents. Wouldn’t attorneys have to prove that Mr. and Mrs. Kevin Ward, Sr. were being financially supported by their 20 year old son? If someone with some legal expertise could comment, that would be great.
My final question is this; If Kevin Ward, Jr.’s death did not involve a high-profile, established (and wealthy) NASCAR driver and instead it involved Billy Bob Rivers who raced cars on the weekends and worked Monday through Friday at the local Pep Boys, would the Ward Family be taking Billy Bob to court?