The Tulsa (Okla.) Sheriff’s Office is conducting an investigation into a confrontation between NASCAR driver Tony Stewart and one of its employees during Friday night’s qualifying races at the Chili Bowl Nationals.
A spokesman with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, confirmed to Motorsport.com on Saturday the department was investigating the incident which took place in the grandstands of the River Spirit Expo Center between Stewart and Kyle Hess, a corporal with the sheriff’s department.
The incident was caught on several cell phone videos. Hess, a longtime employee with the department, was not on duty at the time, the spokesman said, and no police report was filed by either Stewart or Hess after the incident.
The spokesmen said the only reason for the investigation was because the incident involved one of the department's employees.
This one, particular fan didn’t like Tony Stewart and had been using colorful language, yelling at Tony every time he came by. Tony finally went up into the stands and they got face to face.
Dennis Larsen, police liaison for the Tulsa Expo Raceway
In one of the videos, Stewart – who has been working this week driving a tractor to help maintain the dirt track – is seen walking into the grandstands to confront Hess, who witnesses told local media had been making obscene gestures to Stewart while he was working on the track in between qualifying races.
Stewart appears to immediately attempt to place his hands on Hess’ shoulders and the two engage in a heated verbal confrontation as Hess tries to remove Stewart’s hands. Hess can be heard saying, “I don’t like you and I never have.”
Hess eventually pushes Stewart away and Hess is then pushed by another individual who appears to be a security worker for the track. Stewart then leans over Hess to talk to him again before the two are finally separated for good.
At the time, track officials didn’t know what was taking place and announced within the arena that Stewart had wandered into the grandstands to “mingle with the fans.”
Dennis Larsen, the police liaison for the Tulsa Expo Raceway called the incident between three-time NASCAR winner and 2002 Chili Bowl Nationals victor Tony Stewart and Hess “a non-deal”. Deputy Chief Larsen, who is an employee of the Tulsa Police Dept., said his agency was not investigating the matter.
Larsen addressed media on Saturday at the Chili Bowl Nationals after the video went viral late Friday.
“Any time you have NASCAR, you have NASCAR fans and you have passionate drivers,” Larsen said. “The drivers are great about coming into the crowd. They take selfies with the fans.
They allow fans to take pictures with them next to the car. “This one, particular fan didn’t like Tony Stewart and had been using colorful language, yelling at Tony every time he came by. Tony finally went up into the stands and they got face to face.
From the witnesses I spoke to last night, Tony’s only question to him was “what’s your problem with me?’ They had a discussion.
End of the confrontation
“At some point the race fan — who had a little bit of beer to drink — either rocked forward or pushed forward. Tony stumbled back, race security stepped in and separated them and the incident was over. The race fan went outside. I discussed it with him, what had occurred. It was decided he would go home and come back today when he felt better.”
Neither Stewart’s public relations representatives nor officials with NASCAR responded to a request for comment on the incident.
Stewart announced last fall the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season would be his last in NASCAR. The former Cup and IndyCar series champion said he still plans to compete in dirt tracks, but was not competing this weekend.
It’s been a tumultuous time away from the track for Stewart the last couple years.
In 2014, Stewart struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr. at a dirt track in upstate New York after the driver walked onto the track under caution, following an incident between the two. A New York grand jury eventually declined to indict Stewart on any charges related to the incident.
The summer before that, Stewart was seriously injured himself in a dirt track race in Iowa and missed the rest of the 2013 season recovering from a compound fracture of his right leg. Stewart, 44, saw his worst performance this past season since he began competing in the Cup series fulltime in 1999.
He failed to make the 16-driver field for the Chase and finished 28th in the series standings. It was his first NASCAR season without a top-five finish.
Motorsport.com's Senior NASCAR Writer Lee Spencer contributed to this story from on-site in Oklahoma