Sprint Car Driver Wins Darwin Award
I have seen a lot of dumbass commentary going on today about the accident and death in the sprint car race last night involving Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward. The following though seems to be the best intelligent and informed commentary that I have seen anywhere so far. So, sharing (via Ace of Spades HQ)…
Update 08-11-2014 18:17 EDT: John Ekdahl has a great roundup of his Twitter commentary along with important pictures of context of the sprint cars, helmets and line of sight from the driver’s seat of the cars. Must read: My Take on the Stewart/Ward Incident
Update 19:33 EDT: Another good comment here:
I was going to give this a pass, since there is a lot of misinformation and supposition here, most of it from people who don’t know shit about racing but have decided they do.
I do know a little bit about it. I have been a fan for almost 60 years — including attending more than a few night races on dirt tracks — and, through my day job, have driven at high speed on race tracks (though I never drove in actual races), driven race cars, and spent time with race drivers from all forms of the sport. I even met Tony Stewart once.
What all y’all need to know are a couple of basic things:
1) Race cars are not like street cars. Especially sprint cars. They don’t have transmissions like your Honda Civic does, and instead of differentials for the driving wheels they have what are called “locked” rear ends. Makes a big difference on dirt, and affects even the basics of steering (or going straight, for that matter) at any speed;
2) Racing isn’t like driving on the street. Things happen very fast, and all too often the driver in a bad situation is a passenger. No matter how skilled, he is sitting there watching things unfold;
3) The field of vision in a race car is very narrow (you’re not there to watch the scenery). In a sprinter, it is even narrower. At night, on a poorly lit track (this is not like Daytona, where big-ass lights keep things fairly bright), vision is worse still. A driver in a black firesuit will not be easy to see;
4) Stewart is a hothead, and may even be a nasty prick. I don’t know, didn’t see it. But he is not a killer. The media, who hate anything dangerous like racing, eat that “blood feud” crap up like flies on shit. They have no idea what goes through a race driver’s head, what happens during a race, or even the physics involved with controlling a race car.
I suppose Stewart will become the Man You Love to Hate in racing, and the genius Prius-driving fuckwads at the NY Slimes will howl for Justice to be Done. I have much more reason to pass an informed judgment than they do, and a hell of a lot more knowledge to back it up. That won’t stop them howling to their faithful readers, who will parrot the nonsense. In my case, I can’t say for certain what happened. So I won’t.
Would be nice if those of us who always talk about “sense,” “getting all the facts” and not jumping to knee-jerk conclusions would react in that way here. I don’t expect it; howling mobs are everywhere.
Posted by: MrScribbler at August 10, 2014 04:02 PM
Also see John Ekdahl’s Twitter feed for some good information: John Ekdahl
“At this point Stewart’s car runs down and kills Ward.”
Really don’t think that’s an accurate description.
Stewart’s rear right tire made contact with Ward. The big question is why that is.
Stewart’s car only turned to the right after making contact with Ward, that’s because Ward’s body got caught up with the wheel.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 02:56 PM
Drivers on foot confronting other drivers who’ve wreck them on the racing surface … is actually somewhat common. Dumb, but something that happens with some regularity.
Nascar actually advertises with a famous highlight of Stewart doing it at Bristol when he gets out of his car and throws his helmet at the guy who wrecked him, bouncing the helmet off the windshield. The crowd loved it.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 02:59 PM
The headline “runs down” is misleading, Ace. That’s not what happens.
It’s not clear that Stewart even saw Ward before the last second. It’s dark. The track is poorly lit. Guy is wearing a black firesuit. The car in front of Stewart swerved to avoid Ward. They are coming off turn 2.
The phrase “runs down” implies Stewart saw and aimed at Ward. There is not evidence to support that.
Ward made contact with Stewart’s right rear tire and was dragged/thrown/entangled. Kinda unclear.
As I said in an earlier thread, Ward took purposeful action to get dangerously close to Stewart. That’s clear. Did Stewart then take purposeful action that resulted in his tire striking and killing Ward? Impossible to tell at this point.
I do think the phrase “runs down” is irresponsible and not supported by the facts or the video.
The bad action that Stewart may or may not have taken was likely revving the throttle as he passed Ward, possibly to intimidate him or spray him with dirt. In that scenario the backend might have kicked out and struck Ward.
It’s not clear at all that that happened. Ward might have slipped. Also, you have to accelerate to steer these cars. the cars slip and slide, that’s the attraction. If Stewart saw him at the last moment then he would have accelerated to get traction to swerve — which would look nearly identical to a purposeful revving to intimidate/spray Ward.
It’s really quite difficult to tell what happened from that video. But I think that video does rule out the claim that Stewart “ran down” Ward.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 03:10 PM
The best evidence we have that Stewart took purposeful action and gunned it, which threw the back-end out and struck Ward, is the eyewitness account in the initial news report. But that driver is a personal friend of Ward and it’s not clear how he could have seen it since it was on the backstretch. Maybe he had the perfect eyeline, but there’s no indication of that at this point.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 03:13 PM
he did run him down
No, he didn’t. That’s not the common use of the term “runs down”.
Runs down implies hitting someone with the front of your car. Also implies intent.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 03:14 PM
Yeah, clearly his back tire struck and, I think, ran him over.
I actually can’t really tell what happened with that video. I think his arm or leg got by the wheel and he got dragged. Not really sure. He was horribly twisted by a powerful force, though.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 03:17 PM
I think it’s possible that Stewart intended to scare/spray the kid as he drove past. I’m just not seeing any clear evidence that that’s what happened.
Saw this elsewhere on the interwebz. The “because sprint car” line refers to the fact these cars race in a state of a constant controlled slide and you have to accelerate to get traction to turn. It also assumes the “gunned the engine” reports in the media are accurate. I think you hear it in the video, but I’m not positive.
I don’t think Stewart intended to hit him but I see two possibilities:
1 – Stewart gunned the engine as he went past to try to intimidate Ward, the back end kicked out (“because sprint car”) and accidentally hit Ward.
2 – Stewart gunned the engine as he went past because sprint cars are like jet skis or boats and don’t turn real good unless they have throttle (“because sprint car”), trying to miss Ward and accidentally hit Ward.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 03:24 PM
There are reports that Stewart destroyed his helmet cam and changed the tire that hit Ward after he got back to the pit.
Only “report” I’ve seen claiming that was some random poster on Deadspin who screamed it in ALL CAPS a few moments after the Deadspin report went up and could not have possibly known that.
I haven’t seen a single legit media source claim that. An anonymous Deadspin commenter doesn’t count as a “report”.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 03:26 PM
Big question for me is whether Stewart really did gun the engine and, if so, why?
There are perfectly innocent explanations, from Stewart’s perspective, for what happened. There’s also a damning explanation that would seem to raise the possibility of manslaughter. Both explanations fit the available evidence.
Hopefully they have another camera angle from the back or side. But even that might not be able to clarify things.
A lot of this comes down to what Stewart saw and when he saw it and what his intent was.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 03:33 PM
If they were under a caution nobody should have been speeding
Not sure what the caution speed is on that track. On a Nascar track caution means they are still going 50+ mph. So that’s still running out in front of cars going highway speed.
Caution speed is still pretty fast compared to humans on foot.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 03:35 PM
The point of the sport is that its slipprier than shit. If control were such a science there would be no crashes at all.
Right, especially dirt track sprint car racing. The whole point and the reason the drivers and fans like it, is it’s so hard to control and cars are sliding all over. This isn’t asphalt. It’s a dirt track which gets watered down on purpose so it’s extra slick and slippery so the cars slide around and put on a good show.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 03:38 PM
How can you tell he gunned the engine?
We can’t really, but eyewitness reports said he did and the audio on the video sounds like he did, kinda mostly.
Honestly I wonder if that sound could be caused by having a human being sucked into your wheel well like that. I don’t know. I’m guessing no.
As mentioned before, if Stewart saw him at the last second and tried to swerve, he also likely would rev the engine to get traction to swerve.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 03:42 PM
On the video, filmed from the other side of the oval, you can hear that particular car rev the engine. Interesting.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 03:45 PM
A key element that, to me, points to a non-deliberate action is the fact that car ahead of Stewart had to swerve to avoid Ward. This increases the likelihood that Stewart didn’t see Wart at all until the last moment with is vision blocked by other cars.
In racing cars often hit stalled/stopped cars in broad daylight seeming with plenty of time to see them. How? They just … don’t see them. And you often see that where the lead car swerves in time and then the car behind just plows into it.
If drivers can simply not see a stopped car in broad daylight, as happens with some regularity, then not seeing a man on foot, dressed in black, at night is totally plausible.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 03:57 PM
They both should have known better
It’s not clear at this point that Stewart did anything wrong. Ward clearly took an irresponsible action. Stewart may or may not have. He may have just been reacting to all of a sudden seeing Ward on the track in front of him with only a split second to react.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 04:00 PM
In a press conference shortly after 3 p.m. ET Sunday, Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Phillip C. Povero said, “At this moment there are no facts or evidence that would support a criminal charge or criminal intent.”
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 04:08 PM
I think the non-winged sprint cars are the deadliest form of racing in America currently. Seems a couple guys die in those races every single year.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 04:17 PM
Some stuff I saw on the reddit thread:
Chirp08 10 points 6 hours ago
800hp+, Direct drive (no clutch, no transmission), the throttle is used to steer. It was literally the worst car in the world you could have put yourself in any proximity of unsafely.
LasciviousSycophant 59 points 6 hours ago
Is there any way to prove it was Tony that gunned it?
Not by observations from us armchair sleuths who have viewed that video. We hear an engine being revved. If one pays attention to the video, one will notice that it’s zoomed in to show cars across the infield. There are cars much closer to the camera that we can’t see. It is far more likely that it is one of those cars that we hear.
It’s also telling that when the actual crash happens, we can’t hear it on the video. The audio one can hear at the time of the crash is engine sounds from the cars closest to the videographer, and not the crash sounds from the track all the way across the infield.
TheCatfromOuterSpace 73 points 12 hours ago
I have 15+ years of crew experience mostly with stock cars on short tracks.
From what I know about Tony personally and after seeing the footage, all I can think of is he was either (1) trying to avoid Ward at the last second and gunned it to try and clear him, (2) thought he was clear of Ward already and was just accelerating off the turn, or (3) he was trying to throw some clay in Ward’s face.
Regardless, Ward should have stayed in his car until at least the wreckers and corner workers were there. The field was still cooling down, and to be honest, Sprint car yellow laps are highly dangerous because of everyone trying to keep their tire and oil temps up.
Also add it being a night race on a tiny bullring and nearly 1000hp short wheelbase cars with limited vis due to aero… yeah, stay in your car unless it is on fire, man.
I feel terrible for everyone involved. Best wishes to them.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 04:39 PM
BTW, all-time Nascar legend Richard Petty actually killed a kid in the crowd when he wrecked once. It was a drag race. Lost control. Drove into the crowd. Terrible.
Posted by: Costanza Defense at August 10, 2014 04:48 PM
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