The investigation is over, but the Ward family isn't backing down as they plan to take Tony Stewart to court in a civil suit.
He’s been found innocent of any criminal wrongdoing in the death of Kevin Ward Jr, one of his competitors in an Empire State Sprint Car race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, held the Saturday night before NASCAR’s visit to Watkins Glen International nearly two months ago.
The unwritten rules
There are a few unwritten rules you learn in motor sport when you’re starting out and two of those are sacrosanct. The first is to go to the restroom before you get into a racecar; the second is to stay in your car following an incident unless your racecar is on fire. Fire is the only justifiable reason to get out and move away from the car.
Grand Jurors deliberating whether Tony Stewart was criminally culpable in the death of Ward Jr were likely swayed by Ward’s relentless march two-thirds of the way down the track to confront three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Stewart as he circled the dark circuit under caution. They also learned toxicology reports showed Ward had impairing amounts of marijuana in his system at the time of the accident.
While Stewart has, since the incident first occurred, stated empathy with the Ward family and its grief, he’s kept to himself until after the verdict came through. Still, with the depths of despair he’s felt, Stewart has kept quiet about the accident and will have to continue his silence until the Ward family decides whether to seek civil damages.
Ward family lashes out
Recent comments made by the family show little knowledge of those sacrosanct rules stated above: they’ve chosen to dispute a Grand Jury’s findings and bring their grievances to the mainstream media, which embraces racing only when there’s dissent and/or death.
That’s not the smartest thing in the world for the Ward family to do. Better they try to come to the realization that their son made a vital error of judgment the moment he left his race car. In a letter read by phone to USA Today the Saturday after the Grand Jury decided not to indict Stewart of any criminal charges, Ward’s aunt (and the sister of his father Kevin Ward) railed against Stewart.
Wendi Ward chastises Stewart and justice system
In her oral letter, Wendi Ward (who is not, to my knowledge a physician) stated that the marijuana in her nephew’s bloodstream and the toxicology report shouldn’t be an issue. She said that, with marijuana on the verge of becoming legal, it shouldn’t even be mentioned, that it mellows people and doesn’t cause enragement. Still, the Federal government considers it a dangerous drug.
She also castigated the legal professionals investigating the accident for not taking a toxicology report on Stewart and for not impounding his car. If this is true, there must be a reason why - but she doesn’t know those reasons and just wants Stewart to pay for the death of her nephew.
I understand your anger, but...
I fully understand her despair and anger at losing her nephew, but to stand on a podium of national news and profess to know everything that occurred that night is both unwise and could likely cost her family money in the long run.
We all know that, in civil suits, it’s the attorneys that get rich. Had the Ward family kept to itself and grieved in private, most likely they’d be getting some compensation from Stewart, who is known throughout the racing community for his silent generosity.
For all his bombastic nature and fierce competitiveness, Tony Stewart’s soft side is what endears him to fans. For him, hearing the cheers from so many race fans wearing the shirts of his competitors as he took his pre-race truck ride at his competitive return on the Atlanta Motor Speedway oval Labor Day weekend moved “Smoke” to tears. And it’s tears - real and virtual - that he’s been shedding since this accident occurred. He didn’t leave his house for days, didn’t bother to clean himself, barely to eat as Stewart suffered the loss of Kevin Ward Jr.
Tony Stewart continues to suffer from the death of Kevin Ward Jr and he likely will for years. He has, at this time, no desire to return to sprint car racing, which was his way of letting off steam and returning to his roots prior to that August night.
The only relief he’s had is being at NASCAR races and working to return to his competitive ways. Until the race at Dover, most people wouldn’t have even known Tony Stewart was entered as his results were pretty much invisible. With the criminal case in his rearview mirror, “Smoke” looked like himself at Dover, carving a 14th place result after starting 15th.
Perhaps he can now resume a regular routine in the near future, rather than marching from motorhome to car to hauler and back to the car? It would be the first step to gaining a sense of normalcy, a status the Grand Jury in New York state said Tony Stewart could resume. If only the Ward family felt the strength to allow themselves to start that ascent themselves?