The Hit: Tony Stewart’s fatal collision with Kevin Ward Jr still lingers – The Guardian
The Hit: Tony Stewart’s fatal collision with Kevin Ward Jr still lingers
Eight years on from the young driver’s death, a new documentary seeks to answer questions about the deadly night on a dirt track
O ne evening, eight years ago this month, a 20-year-old stock car driver named Kevin Ward Junior turned up in order to a mud-packed oval circuit in upstate New York for a minor-league race. About halfway through, he was bumped by a rival car and sent spiraling into the barrier. Seeing red, Keep exited his vehicle plus charged down the banked circuit to vent their frustration. Several cars tacked down in order to the inside-most line to avoid him. But when the car that had ended Ward’s race approached, it veered up toward the particular young car owner, and flung him 25 feet across the track to his death . Spectators at Canandaigua Motorsports Park gasped. They hadn’t just witnessed the horror of a driver killed in competition. They saw Ward, the local hero and ascendent talent, run over by Nascar megastar Tony a2z Stewart.
A three-time Cup champion, Stewart, then 43, has been moonlighting in the race ahead of a Nascar road competition at Watkins Glen. Immediately after Ward’s death, officially ruled an “accident, ” public sympathy swamped Stewart. Ward, on the other hand, was demonized as a hothead – and shortly afterwards a drug user whenever a post-mortem toxicology report didn’t just find THC in Ward’s system, but enough in order to impair their judgment according to Ontario county district attorney Michael Tantillo. Something about that picture always seemed off. Now a recent documentary shows just how far off, down to the pixel.
The Strike premiered in this year’s DC Independent Film Forum. And the particular sports world-rocking accident this painstakingly revisits wasn’t an obvious project for writer-director Chris Halsne. An award-winning investigative reporter and broadcaster-in-residence at American University, Halsne doesn’t cover motorsport or follow it for fun. But then he was tipped off about a presentation on the accident that would be given at a conference for the National Academy of Forensic Engineers. “[I thought], wow, that’s a visual, interesting, new piece of science, ” he told the Protector.
Until after that, the dying of Ward was the story informed through grainy cell phone plus trackside video that left plenty of room for reasonable doubt as to whether Stewart had been truly at fault. The analysis in Denver narrowed that will knowledge gap considerably. Using a 3D animation sourced from more than a billion data points the evaluation makes clear that Stewart accelerated and fishtailed his car in the direction of a defenseless man. The only thing it couldn’t say for certain is whether Stewart did this particular on purpose (He has never been charged along with a crime over Ward’s death. )
The analysis, which is freshly presented in The Hit, is the biggest bombshell in the 80-minute documentary. And it comes well after Halsne and his team bombard viewers with multiple replays of the crash, plus in HD-caliber quality that was not available at the time of Ward’s death. In between, The particular Hit takes stock of the two drivers who came together upon that fateful night within Canandaigua – one, a throwback around the downslope now racing for that pure fun of this; the other, the dirt monitor lifer who couldn’t have been a lot more satisfied along with his minor-league lot. (Not surprisingly, Halsne great team had vastly more access to Ward’s family than to Stewart, that declined to participate in the film. ) And the movie thoroughly explores the world of sprint cars – which aren’t just dynamically different through tarmac-based open-wheel machines, yet also a subculture where pros mix it upward with weekend warriors and provide rural communities like Canandaigua reliable weekend entertainment.
But where The Hit really hits its stride is in its review of the accident investigation. Not least, it reveals local authorities stumbling over the accident scene and the particular mechanics of sprint cars, which are engineered to turn remaining and are guided as much simply by the throttle as by steering wheel. It exposes the VIP treatment that was extended to Stewart – who else flew out of town under cover associated with darkness without having to part with any in-car recording equipment following Ward’s death. His police interview barely requires up half a page. As to the question of Stewart’s intent, The Hit scoops never-before-seen deposition footage of Stewart – the only time on record in which he explains their side associated with the incident. He says he was actually trying to speed downtrack, away from Ward, when the car fishtailed. But that account clashes with depositions from witnesses, including two nearby racers who said they noticed him turn up the track toward Keep – behavior that jibes with the tempestuous plus confrontational personality who responds to the nickname “Smoke. ”
“We stated from day one this looked such as he moved up the monitor and obviously hit the throttle, ” Kevin Ward Sr tells Halsne. “I know them cars do what they do when you hit the accelerator. Why did he strike the throttle? ”
Still: In the particular aftermath of the accident, no bit of evidence would prove quite as damning in the court associated with public opinion as the contention that Keep was “high on marijuana” during the time of his death. That, too, The particular Hit finds was overblown – interviewing a medical toxicologist which points out that will THC levels often become substantially elevated or concentrated after loss of life. The Ontario county coroner’s office, which cited Ward’s official cause of passing away as “massive blunt trauma, ” drew Ward’s blood samples 39 hours after this individual died. “I knew we had to dig into their use of THC, ” Halsne states. “Of course the family thinks it’s BS. But the truth is it was in his system. It’s just scientifically unlikely that he was as impaired since the district attorney so clearly mentioned in his press conference. ”
Stewart wasn’t subject to a field sobriety test at all. In the end Stewart took three weeks off from work before returning to his Nascar Cup racing duties. Plus although he’d only grab the checkered flag once more before retiring from driving following the particular 2016 season (leaving your pet with 49 career wins), the bigger victory for Stewart was a good Ontario region grand jury declining in order to indict him on charges of second-degree manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
While Stewart offers carried on because a Nascar team owner, TV analyst and motorsport entrepreneur, Ward’s survivors possess struggled to show the page. The Strike gives their close friends within the race community period and space to reckon with their still-raw feelings. When Ward’s parents aren’t guiding cameras around their son’s untouched space for your documented, they vent about how Stewart – despite his general public acknowledgements associated with their family – never reached out within the night time of the accident, in no way visited all of them when Ward was within hospital or even otherwise made direct contact. Mind you, this is right after their civil suit against Stewart has been settled away of court in 2018 in confidence, just weeks before a trial was scheduled to begin.
If there’s a knock against The Hit, it’s that the particular masses can’t watch it. Halsne had been in conversation with a few interested parties during The Hit’s film festival runs in DC and LA, but nothing has materialized as yet. That’s a shame. The Hit is a film that should be since accessible as the raft of videos of Ward’s death. Halsne’s documentary doesn’t just shine; it illuminates a tragedy to the point exactly where it can finally be seen clearly.