As the immediate family of the driver killed during a sprint race in upstate New York on Saturday maintained a dignified stance in public, frustration and rage spilled out onto social media.
Wendi Ward, the aunt of crash victim Kevin Ward Jr., posted a message late Sunday aimed squarely at veteran NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, who hit Ward Jr. during the dirt track race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
The Wards are a racing family prominent in the Rochester area and sponsored racing events through the Westward Painting Co., according to the Daily Mail. Ward Jr. had been racing for about five years.
By all accounts so far, the 20-year-old’s death appears to have been an accident in one of the few sports where fatal accidents are an intrinsic part of the game.
Accidents are going to happen when vehicles are hurtling around a confined space at triple-digit speeds and Stewart was no stranger to them.
Last year on the same track he caused a 15-car pileup that seriously injured another driver and hurt Stewart bad enough to cause him to miss the second half of the NASCAR season.
In a statement, Stewart expressed his regret for the accident.
The Ontario County Sheriff’s Office is asking the public for help collecting video or photos of the crash. The widely seen video of the crash is not conclusive, though Sheriff Philip Povero said Saturday that no criminal activity is suspected.
That didn’t stop critics like veteran sportscaster Jim Gray from sounding off on Fox News on Monday, criticizing professional racing, and NASCAR in particular, for setting the standard and tolerating hot-headed behavior.
NASCAR racing is a different entity from the sprint car circuits like the track where Saturday’s death occurred, but Gray and others, including New York Times sports columnist Juliet Macur, cited driver behavior at the top rung of NASCAR for its influence on drivers lower in the sport’s hierarchy.
Like many other drivers over the years — both at the top level of auto racing, and on dirt tracks like the one Saturday that was the site of the fatal confrontation — Stewart has gotten out of his crashed racecars and has wagged his finger at other drivers, warning them that a flogging could come for causing him to wreck. Verbal and physical altercations also have unfolded in the garages or on pit road.
Twitter users following the hashtag #tonystewart were, as usual, all over the map on their interpretations of what happened and why.
— Chuck Nellis (@ChuckNellis) August 10, 2014
But one statement is absolutely true, and it’s something any critics of Stewart — and racing as a whole — should remember.
So unnecessary. If Kevin Ward Jr. stays in his car, he’s alive today. Dissect it any way you want. #tonystewart
— NormanJamesCTV (@NormanJamesCTV) August 11, 2014
NOTE: This post has been modified from the original.
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