Marijuana Blamed in NASCAR Driver Death

On August 9th, during a an Empire Super Sprints race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York, NASCAR champ Tony Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward, Jr. Prior to the incident, the 20-year-old Ward was either bumped or cut off by Stewart as they raced alongside each other. After Ward hit the wall, a yellow caution flag came out and the racers slowed. At that point, Ward climbed out of his car and walked down the track, waving his arms in an apparent attempt to confront Stewart. Ward was struck by Stewart’s right rear tire and hurtled through the air. He died of blunt force trauma.

Yesterday, a grand jury in Ontario County, NY, voted not to indict Stewart. County district attorney, R. Michael Tantillo revealed that Ward was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the accident — “enough to impair judgment.”

Now wait one fucking minute! The impression left by this revelation, by design or by accident, is that Ward was so high that, in a stoned haze following the crash, he dispensed with all common sense and approached a speeding racecar to challenge the driver to a fistfight, or something of that nature.

Really? Sounds like anger was actually the cause. It’s no secret that the heat of passion will cause an individual to act irrationally and possibly cause harm to themselves or others.

We also doubt that Ward was as “so stoned at the time of his death” that it impaired his judgment as Tantillo states.

If he used pot before the race, he obviously was an experienced pot user. It’s hard to believe that he’d try pot for the very first time before an important race. So if Ward really did toke up before the race, when and where did it happen?

How long had he been “stoned” prior to his death?

More likely Ward’s death was a result of misplaced machismo. New York Post sports columnist Phil Mushnick had this to say about the incident.

“As a senseless death, it seems to have made a lot of sense. In fact, it causes wonder as to why within sanctioned motor racing, such “senseless” road-raging carnage, fueled by the human condition, doesn’t occur weekly.

Testosterone and gasoline do mix, always have, often to no good end other than dead endings.

And auto racing for decades has been sold as an endeavor that romances and stokes Billy The Kid gunslingers, gunning for fame and, in Saturday’s case, lethal misfortune, Boot Hill.

And here Ward was racing near his own turf, in front of friends and family, a regional reputation to either maintain or enhance.

Such Saturday night theater, in need of an antagonist, had the perfect one: Tony Stewart. At 43, the Black Bart of auto racing, the spit-on-your-cowboy-boots legend, the tough hombre other drivers gun for or get out of his way. Stewart’s vitriolic post-race hassles, replete with accusations and fines for on- and off-track confrontations, are nearly standard.

In Western shoot-’em-up movies, when a gun-totin’, dead-eye, leather-slappin’, law-scoffin’ legend hits town, the townspeople shudder, the town’s shuttered. But when Stewart hit western New York last week, the townsfolk headed for the track. Love him or loathe him … you know how it works.

Of course, modern bad-is-good marketing strategies allowed Stewart, at least until Sunday morning, to cash in on his heel appeal — product endorsements and extra TV attention, like Bobby Knight in a flame-retardant jumpsuit.

And so, as rotten endings go, this one seemed to be a go from the start. The pieces, the people and the place were all in place.

The notion that this stuff only happens in the movies — the James Dean hot rod race scene in 1955’s Rebel Without A Cause Paul Le Mat vs. Harrison Ford in 1973’s American Graffiti — would be great, if such movies didn’t rely on the genuine, specifically male, human condition.

Motor races of all kinds occur at the junction of Avoidable and Inevitable, where good sense and get-even meet and often collide. I don’t know enough about vehicular forensics or auto racing to know what I saw. But I know what I suspect.

I suspect that young Ward, assuming the role of upstart hometown gunslinger, wasn’t going to let Black Bart get away with it; wasn’t going to let Stewart nudge him into a wall and out of the race — not in front of his fans — without taking the next opportunity to call him out.

And so he left his walled, turned-around sprint car and stayed on the track, waiting for Stewart to come ’round, to let him know, and to show the world, at the very least his world.

And Stewart, staying in character, did what he thought he had to in service to his image and conditioning — scare the hell out of the kid, maybe spit some dirt in his face, show the kid, perhaps for a second time, who’s boss. But he hit the kid, ran into him, killed him.

One wonders: Had it been anyone else who Ward felt had forced him into that wall, intentionally or accidentally, would he have remained on the track, awaiting that driver’s return?

I suspect that both men — their machines and their macho — played a significant role in Ward’s death.”

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