Greg Zyla: Tony Stewart incident observations

Greg Zyla More Content Now
Kevin Ward Jr. is shown here in victory lane after a Dash Series victory on the Empire Super Sprints tour. The 20 year-old driver, who was named Rookie of the Year in 2012, died after being hit by Tony Stewart’s sprint car following an on track altercation last Saturday at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, located not far from Rochester, NY. (Empire Super Sprints photo)

I’ve received numerous emails asking my opinion of the recent Kevin Ward Jr. fatality involving Tony Stewart. First, my condolences to the Kevin Ward Jr. family following his death at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York. There, Tony Stewart hit and killed the up and coming 20-year-old driver following a sprint car racing incident. This story has been all over the news since it happened, and many of the reports are full of misinformation.

First and foremost, I’m sure Tony Stewart certainly did not intend to injure or kill Kevin Ward Jr. Granted, after viewing the video on YouTube, there does seem to be an “acceleration” when Tony gets to where Ward Jr. is standing, as the youngster was moving forward and pointing his finger at Stewart, who he felt was the culprit of the accident. If Stewart did not see Ward Jr. until the last second, he may have tried a “turn right” maneuver to get the rear of the car to move to the left. At this point, no one is sure.

In my opinion, Stewart’s gunning of his engine was either to get out of the way or to spray some dirt on Ward Jr. at the worst. It’s sad some of the Internet blogs are calling Stewart a murderer. Stewart has been known as a hot head from day one at NASCAR, and he’s been in his share of media conflicts, fan disagreements, driver punches and helmet throwing.

The TV news reports seem to indicate that drivers running onto the track following an accident never happen, and that Ward Jr. caused the incident because he was on the track. If this were true, even Tony Stewart wouldn’t be around as he’s been on the track protesting in temper tantrums many times as cars flew past way faster than those that went by Ward Jr.

Additionally, the race in question in New York last Saturday night was under the caution flag when the incident occurred, meaning all the cars slow down and re-align. Only under red-flag conditions does a race stop, and this happens only after a serious accident or inclement weather.

Let’s consider the following:

First: Was there criminal intent? My answer is no, as Stewart did not intend to kill Ward Jr. Stewart may look back and regret what he did with the throttle, but only he himself knows of the intent. This scribe feels his intent was to sling some dirt on the youngster and teach him a lesson not to point fingers at a champion.

Second: Did Ward Jr. think Stewart saw him? Some reports say that Ward Jr.’s race uniform was all black, which was a factor in Stewart hitting him because he didn’t see him. Personally, I’m not sure this is correct as by the time Stewart came around a full lap, I would opine that he may have already seen Ward Jr. out of the car in an agitated state. I can’t be sure, mind you, but usually when two cars hit and one is knocked out, the driver continuing on is doubly aware of the incident. Ward Jr. should not be made a fool of because he was on the track

Third: The sprint car is hard to slow down? Not true. I head this statement on several reports on TV, and it’s clear the reporters don’t know what a sprint car is. First, sprint cars have no transmissions and have to be pushed to start. They accelerate very quickly and slow down very quickly. Also, the right rear tire is twice the size of the left inside tire, and maybe three to four times as big as a front tires. This is called “stagger” to the uneducated and when a driver either lifts off the gas going into a turn, or hits the throttle in the turn, a sprint car’s normal motion is to kick out to the right to help broadslide through a turn.

Because of the stagger, and the low speed Steward was traveling, this “kick out to the right” seems to be what happened when Stewart hit the throttle as he was going by Ward Jr. It is the single part of the mishap that needs the most investigation.

One reality is for sure … both Ward Jr. and Stewart misjudged how close Stewart was to Ward Jr., or vice versa, resulting in Ward Jr. being thrown to his death.

Again, we all know Tony Stewart is indeed a hot head. Many drivers are. But a killer he is not, and he’s going to have to live with this tragedy the rest of his life. Only he knows in his heart what happened when he went by and hit that throttle.

In this instance, however, it seems a “perfect storm” of misfortune hit at Canandaigua, New York, where both of the antagonists played a role in the outcome.

For now, let’s again think of the family of Kevin Ward Jr., a talented youngster who had a bright future ahead.

Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media, More Content Now and He welcomes reader input at 116 Main St., Towanda, PA 18848 or at