It’s arguably the most talked-about video in sports right now.
The amateur footage of the tragic racing incident that killed Kevin Ward Jr. over the weekend has gone viral to the tune of more than six million hits on Youtube.
The 20-year-old Ward inexplicably stepped out of his car on the dirt track in upstate New York during a caution lap on Saturday night to confront Tony Stewart, one of the biggest names in NASCAR history.
What happened next has been replayed and dissected at length over the last few days.
Stewart’s car struck Ward, who was later pronounced dead at a local hospital. The Ontario County Sheriff is conducting an investigation into Stewart who, as of Tuesday afternoon, was not facing any charges.
No doubt both drivers were at fault.
The hot-headed Ward had no business climbing out of his car on the track at that moment unless the vehicle were on fire. Sure, it’s dark and the guy is wearing a black fire suit and black helmet — but none of that matters if Ward stays in the car.
Stewart had been involved in a wreck with Ward, who hit the wall to bring the race under caution. Ward took exception, scrambled out of his car, and started looking for Stewart.
One of the top young drivers on the Empire Super Sprint Series, Ward was well-known in New York. Stewart is a three-time Sprint Cup champion.
Call it turf wars.
The first cars swerved out of Ward’s way. Stewart hit him and Ward’s body was dragged and thrown across the track.
What immediately followed was a firestorm of comments and criticism from drivers, media, athletes and fans. Those in Ward’s camp claim Stewart could have avoided Ward, adding that Stewart accelerated as he brushed into him. Stewart, notorious for a short fuse himself, could have been sending a message to up-and-coming driver. Although it’s highly unlikely he envisioned such tragic consequences.
Did the Sprint car simply drift as Stewart tried to get out of the way? Or was Stewart attempting to put Ward in his place?
Whether the incident was an unfortunate accident or a crime, it could have been avoided.
Stewart did not race in the Sprint Cup series race at Watkins Glen the day after the fatal crash. Some have argued he should be parked for at least the length of the investigation.
Either way, what unfolded on Saturday night at Canandaigua Speedway was the result of two drivers who share the same zero fear racing style. Ward had a reputation as a wheel man before his death — racing mostly on dirt tracks a few hours from his home. Although Stewart races with the big boys, he doesn’t shy away from his roots — returning to smaller dirt tracks to compete against drivers of all ages and talent levels.
For the local fan, it might conjure images of Bowman Gray Stadium, with scenes of Burt Myers and Junior Miller getting tangled up on the quarter-mile track. In mid-July, Myers and Tim Brown got into an altercation on the track that ended up on Youtube and resulted in penalties that essentially took both guys out of championship contention.
Race fans have seen everything from punches thrown to a driver being dragged around the track. Old-school drivers call it grassroots racing. If there is a score to settle, you do it on the track. It just so happens that the fisticuffs might take place at “The Madhouse,” in front of thousands of people, and it might eventually wind up on the Web.
Not to mention aggressive driving can come at a cost above and beyond replacing a torn fender.
The tragedy in New York could have happened at Bowman Gray, or anywhere.
Stiffer rules for drivers who exit their cars under caution have been discussed, but penalties would be tough to enforce until after the race.
Certainly these guys pour countless hours of blood, sweat and money into getting a car ready to run. On race day, emotion and adrenaline is sky high and tempers can boil over. But Saturday’s incident in New York serve as a painful reminder of what can happen when drivers lose their cool.