Court documents tell two sides in Ward family lawsuit against Tony Stewart

14 Comments

Tony Stewart denied turning up the track toward Kevin Ward Jr. in a 171-page deposition that was released this week as part of court documents in the Ward family’s lawsuit against Stewart.

The Ward family filed a wrongful death lawsuit Aug. 7, 2015, nearly a year after the 20-year-old Ward was struck and killed by Stewart during an Empire Super Sprints race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York. A grand jury ruled Sept. 24, 2014, that Stewart would not face criminal charges.

Stewart seeks a summary judgement. A hearing is scheduled April 28 in U.S. District Court in Utica, New York.

Stewart and Ward had been racing together when Ward spun into the wall — Stewart claimed in his deposition he did not hit Ward, while others have countered that in their depositions.

After the incident, Ward exited his car and walked down the track.

Here’s what happened next, based on court documents:

ACCIDENT RECONSTRUCTION REPORTS FILED

Both sides have submitted reports that detailed what happened.

The report on behalf of Stewart states: “When (Chuck) Hebing (who was in front of Stewart’s car) was passing by him, Mr. Ward shuffled his feet and moved about 0.7 feet up the track. But, as soon as Mr. Hebing passed him, Mr. Ward continued moving parallel to the track and also took a step about 1.5 to 2.3 feet down the track, towards and into the path of Mr. Stewart’s car.”

The report on behalf of the Ward family views the matter in a different way. It states: “Immediately prior to impact, Mr. Ward remained relatively stationary and remained outside the path where six preceding Sprint Cars had passed his location without incident. Therefore, Mr. Ward did not cause the impact with (Stewart’s car) but was rather the victim of Mr. Stewart directing his (car) toward his location.’’

The report filed on behalf of Stewart addresses Stewart’s car in the moments before and after striking Ward: “In this case, the inputs to get the car to drive around and avoid contact with Mr. Ward include steering to the left and/or applying some throttle to assist the car’s counterclockwise rotation. We know from the video stills discussed above that the car was pointed towards the infield and traveled down track while in the field of view of the camera. It would take about 1 second for the car to respond to the driver’s steering and throttle inputs.

“That would mean that the driver of the car, Mr. Stewart, had to perceive and react to the emergency of Mr. Ward’s appearance before the full appearance of Mr. Ward from behind Mr. Hebing’s #45 car. Given the typical perception-reaction time of 1.0 to 1.5 seconds for a normal driver in an emergency, and the fact that the track was under caution and the drivers were not racing, Mr. Stewart’s perception-reaction time was reasonable given the visibility, lighting, and unexpected motion of Mr. Ward prior to Mr. Stewart’s car arriving at Mr. Ward’s position.

“In summary, Mr. Stewart simply did not have enough time to react to Mr. Ward’s unpredictable actions and successfully avoid hitting him.’’

The report on behalf of the Ward family also sees that incident differently: “It is apparent Mr. Stewart intentionally caused his vehicle to move towards Mr. Ward by aggressively adding throttle input while counter steering through the turn.’’

TONY STEWART’S DEPOSITION

Stewart gave a deposition Dec. 8, 2016. The full transcript was filed earlier this week by Ward’s side in opposition of Stewart seeking a summary judgment. Ward’s father and mother attended Stewart’s deposition, which took place in Indianapolis.

In his deposition, Stewart was asked about the incident. This was how he answered questions on the matter.

Q. All right. After you saw his car, you saw him; he was on the track?

A. After I — yeah, after I saw his car, then I saw him.

Q. Okay. And —

A. Or a figure. I didn’t know that it was him but I saw —

Q. Fair enough. You saw a person on the track?

A. Yes.

Q. When you saw the car, you knew just procedure, that your pass was to be low?

A. Yeah, he was all the way to the outside — the car was all the way to the outside of the track, so anywhere that we went was going to be below it.

Q. All right. So where were you driving your car when you entered turn 1 as on the track? Middle of the track? Low track? High part of the track?

A. I really don’t remember. I mean, typically you would run somewhere in the middle of the racetrack.

Q. Okay. When you saw Mr. — when you saw the car that was disabled at the top part of the track, did you steer your vehicle in any direction that you recall?

A. No. I was already underneath the vehicle.

Q. You were underneath it. Okay. So you did not change the line that you were on based on your realizing where the car was that was disabled was on the track; is that fair?

A. Correct.

Q. All right. Now, in relation to the car that was on the track, where was the person that you saw on the track?

A. Initially when I saw the car, I didn’t realize there wasn’t a driver in the car.

Q. But at some point you did?

A. Yes.

Q. All right. And when you saw that person, did you from that point on change the direction of your vehicle based on seeing that person on the track?

A. It was a split second from the time that I saw a person until I got to the person.

Q. Okay. Is that a “no”?

A. I attempted to change direction.

Q. Okay. You don’t recall — and when you say you “attempted to change direction,” you attempted to change direction to the left down the track?

A. Correct.

Q. All right. It’s your testimony that you did not at any time after seeing Mr. Ward’s car or Mr. Ward on the track steer your car up the track?

A. No, sir.

DEPOSITIONS FROM OTHER DRIVERS IN AUG. 2014 SPRINT CAR RACE

Chuck Hebing, who was in that race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park and running ahead of Stewart under caution as they approached the area where Ward wrecked, described what happened in his deposition:

“(Ward) was coming down the track. I thought he was actually coming to my car. Me and Kevin have — I might have ran him out of room in that race, so I thought he might have been mad at me. Came at my car. I gassed it, swerved away from him and said to myself that “Next guy in line was probably going to hit him.”

Jessica Zemken-Friesen, who dated Stewart in 2011, also was competing in the race and running behind Stewart under caution. In her deposition, she described what she saw:

A. I was following Tony, and I – they were saying on the radio to stay low, and I was lower on the track, and I was behind him, right directly behind him pulling into turn one and two, and they were telling us to stay low. And I started to come down a little bit, and I could see Tony’s left front wheel turn to the right, closer in the direction of where Kevin was up higher on the racetrack. Um, and then I could see, um, I was just underneath him, and I could look up and see – I could see Kevin still there in front of his car with his hands in the air. And I saw the rear of the car stand up and the – the dust come off the rear tires as Tony hit the throttle.

Q. And then?

A. And then when he – when he hit the throttle the rear of the car came around and the front end of the car went to the left, the car got sideways, and he struck Kevin.’’

Later, Zemken-Friesen was asked:

Q. Do you think Mr. Stewart intentionally hit Mr. Ward?

A. I don’t know what he was thinking or what was going through his mind. I just was behind it and saw what I saw.’

MORE OF TONY STEWART DEPOSITION

Stewart was asked about his temper and various penalties he had been given in NASCAR for his actions, as Ward’s side seeks to show that Stewart has a history of his anger dictating his actions.

Q. All right. Would you say that you have had a — had some issues with your anger throughout the course of your life?

A. Occasionally.

Q. And have you, in fact, sought any counseling or treatment for that?

A. No, sir.

Q. Never had any anger management or counseling or any formalized process to help you with anger?

A. No, sir.

Stewart then was asked about incidents with Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. He also was asked about an incident with Kurt Busch inside the NASCAR hauler at Daytona International Speedway.

Q. Have you had any physical confrontations with any other drivers or people that were related to races where there were any punches thrown or shoves gone back and forth?

A. Kurt Busch.

Q. What happened with Kurt Busch?

A. We had an altercation inside the NASCAR trailer with the officials.

Q. Did you punch Mr. Busch or shove him?

A. Yes.

Q. And who precipitated that physical confrontation, you or Mr. Busch?

A. I did.

Q. And what was — why were you — why did you initiate a physical confrontation with Mr. Busch?

A. For lack of better terms, he initiated the — basically he was antagonizing us in front of the NASCAR officials and very inappropriately.

Q. And but with words?

A. Yes.

Q. And you responded with physical aggression?

A. Yes.

Q. All right. Is it a fair sum-up or not for some of the stuff we’ve just gone through to say that various times you’ve used your fists, your helmet and your car as a tool — as tools of physical force against other racers?

MR. SMIKLE: I’m going to object to the form of the question. It’s vague and ambiguous.

But go ahead and answer.

THE WITNESS: What you’ve shown is — I’ve raced for 38 years, I’ve raced over 1,500 races and what you’ve shown is less than 1 percent of the races that I participated in NASCAR. So altercations like that happen amongst drivers every week. So this is not un — this isn’t out of the ordinary for our sport.

 and on Facebook

Watch NASCAR America’s MotorSports Hour 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

NBC Sports
Leave a comment

Today’s episode of NASCAR America presents the MotorSports Hour runs from 5 to 6 p.m. ET, where we break down news not just in NASCAR but also IndyCar, Supercross and other racing series.

Our analysts will be Marty Snider, Parker Kligerman and AJ Allmendinger.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

With a new track layout, Sonoma gets new fan viewing area with ‘The Point’

Sonoma Raceway
Leave a comment

When NASCAR returns to Sonoma Raceway June 21-23, it will do so to compete on a slightly different road course than what they’ve competed on since 1998.

For the track’s 50th anniversary, it will return to its original 12-turn, 2.52-mile circuit.

That utilizes the “Carousel” portion of the track, a sweeping downhill corner from Turn 4 down through Turns 5 and 6 to the facility’s longest straightaway before reaching the Turn 7 hairpin.

With the reintroduction of the “Carousel,” Sonoma is introducing a new area for fans to enjoy that area of the track.

The track has rebranded the peninsula between Turns 1 and 6 as “The Point.” This area offers up-close views of both corners, as well as a direct perspective of the start/finish line and flag stand.

“The Point” will be upgraded with a 1,550-square-foot Humboldt Redwood shade structure, more than 700 feet of stand-up bars along the fence line and new food and beverage locations. Access to the area is free to all fans, and terrace seating is available on the hillside adjacent to Turn 1.

 

In the drivers seat: A look at one of the coolest jobs in NASCAR

Photo: Dustin Long
Leave a comment

Some moments they are Joey Logano. Other times they are Jimmie Johnson. Or Kevin Harvick. Or some other driver.

This isn’t a video game or make-believe. This is role-playing in the real world: They pilot a Cup car. Crew members leap from the wall. Air guns whine. Lug nuts fly.

Cup drivers rarely have time to take part in pit practice. So someone has to drive the car. That perk typically goes to an entry-level employee whose duties often include gluing lug nuts to wheels, stacking tires and monitoring air tanks.

Mark Morrison said he’ll never forget the first time he drove the car in pit practice at Hendrick Motorsports.

That was 17 years ago.

One of the sport’s coolest jobs is more than a joy ride. Teams rely on these drivers to place the car in the right position so pit crews can hone their skills. With track position critical and tenths of a second the difference between winning and losing, what happens in pit practice can make a difference in a race.

It all begins with who is driving the car.

THE FRATERNITY OF PIT CAR DRIVERS

Marcus Horton is 30 but looks young enough to get carded. His father, Phil, is the pit coach for the Drive for Diversity program but Marcus Horton didn’t plan to be a pit crew member.

He has a business degree from Marshall University but admits: “For me, I wouldn’t want to be in an office all day. I like getting my hands dirty. I probably should have took up something different in college than business. I like art, I like photographs, but I’m not sure how well that was going to translate into the real world. I thought maybe I should do something that would benefit me in the long run.”

A couple of years after graduating, Horton asked his dad if he would coach him to be a pit crew member. The younger Horton was in the Drive for Diversity program for three years and served as a pit crew member for Carl Long’s Xfinity team last year. Horton joined Stewart-Haas Racing in December as a developmental pit crew member.

Erick Harps drove the car during pit practice at Hendrick Motorsports until a recent promotion to the engine shop. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Erick Harps, 22, was recently promoted to the engine shop at Hendrick Motorsports, ending his tenure driving the pit car. He trained at Universal Technical Institute in California. Harps moved to North Carolina two years ago to work in the sport. About six months after he arrived, he got a job at Hendrick Motorsports.

Chris Tomberlin, 22, joined Team Penske on Jan. 2 as a developmental pit crew member. He will graduate this year from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he was a receiver on the football team.

“I’ve always been a fan of racing,” Tomberlin said. “The (job) opportunity presented itself. I couldn’t not accept it.”

That was before he found out he would be driving a stock car.

NOT YOUR FATHER’S CAR

When Harps told his parents he drove a car in pit practice at Hendrick Motorsports, his mother screamed in excitement.

But that wasn’t the first time he had been in a car. He had to undergo training — as any Hendrick pit car driver does — before taking part in live pit stops.

“You can’t step into one of them and think you’re going to drive it,” Harps said.

Hendrick Motorsports’ car has a race engine, providing more horsepower than a standard passenger car. The Hendrick car has a manual transmission, not automatic like many passenger cars, so if you can’t drive a stick, you wouldn’t be able to drive these cars.

Hendrick Motorsports also sets the car for each track. With the series heading to Talladega Superspeedway, that means the car will have a smaller brake package. 

At Stewart-Haas Racing, they have three different pit cars, so Horton has to know each of them. Each steering wheel is different. One is tight, another turns more freely and the other one rates between the two. The brakes also are different in each car. They’re touchy on one car, less so on the others.

“Every day it’s a like a new day for me trying to figure out where the car is going to stop and how I’m going to handle it,” Horton said.

That’s why each driver makes test runs before pit crews jump in front of the car.

“SILVER DOLLAR EYES”

One of the biggest adjustments for any pit car driver is seeing people run in front of the car during practice.

“The craziest thing is just from driving normally out on the roads, your instinct is to avoid a person” said Andy Papathanassiou, director of human performance at Hendrick Motorsports and a former pit car driver.

Having people run in front of the car is jarring for new pit car drivers. (Photo: Dustin Long)

“But when you are driving a pit practice car, you have to just focus on your mark because there are guys jumping all around you and you can’t veer from your path or then they will be in danger. So you have to literally put the blinders on and just expect that they’re going to get out of your way.”

Chris Krieg, pit crew coach at Stewart-Haas Racing, says when pit car drivers first do live stops, they all have the same condition. He calls it “silver dollar eyes” for how their eyes widen.

Horton admits when the pit crews started jumping in front of him, it altered how he entered the pit stall.

“I was stopping earlier and slowing down a lot sooner,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt anybody on our team. It was definitely a hard time because they would be like ‘You can bring it in hotter,’ and I’d be like, ‘Actually I can’t because I think I’m going to hit you guys if I do that.’”

DO YOUR JOB

If the car stops beyond where the crew is positioned, they have to adjust and it slows the stop. Same for when the car stops too short.

There are times when a pit coach will tell the driver to purposely stop short or long or close to the pit wall to test the pit crew and prepare them for possible race situations. Other times, it’s more important to hit the right spots so the pit crew can get their reps.

“The more you practice during the week with the guy who knows exactly how to put the car where he needs to put it, the better you feel for the race track on Sunday,” said Landon Walker, fueler for William Byron’s team.

At Stewart-Haas Racing, they’ll have Horton or whoever else is driving the car to try to imitate each of the drivers for the pit crews. Each driver has their own nuance on how they enter the stall, something you likely can’t tell unless you saw them pit time after time. There are those who will lock their brakes to stop or roll the car in or stop short consistently. 

“The (pit car) driver is critical,” Krieg said. “If we waste a bunch of practice because they’re not hitting the marks where we need them to, they’re wasting time and reps and beating and banging on the crews’ body. Every rep is valuable and those guys have to be spot on.”

A PART OF THE ACTION

It’s a ride of a lifetime even if one is only traveling about 50 yards to the pit stall.

“It’s got a lot of power behind it,” Harps said. “The clutch is not an easy thing to overcome just because it’s stronger than a regular clutch. You have to have a lot of leg power. It’s very hard to get going without spinning the tire.”

Once the car stops in the stall, there’s still more for the driver to do. Keep the wheel straight for the tire changers. Don’t stall the car.

“It’s cool to actually be able to feel the changers hit their lugs and feel the jackman make his first punch on the car, feel the carriers slamming that tire on the car,” Tomberlin said. “It’s rare to be able to experience it.”

It’s an experience only a few get. It’s quite a ride.

 and on Facebook

Ryan Sieg’s crew chief shares secrets to early success in Xfinity Series

Getty Images
Leave a comment

What started off as a pleasant surprise this year has become the norm for Ryan Sieg Racing in the Xfinity Series.

Through eight races, Ryan Sieg and his No. 39 Chevrolet have yet to finish worse than 12th.

The team based just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, has an average finish of 8.6, sixth-best among series regulars.

Heading into the second off-weekend of the year for the Xfinity Series, Sieg is probably still cleaning up from the Larry’s Hard Lemonade shower he received after he placed fifth last Friday at Richmond.

According to veteran crew chief Shane Wilson, the second non-superspeedway top five of Sieg’s career was made possible by what Sieg didn’t do a month earlier at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

By not tearing up their short-track car at Phoenix, it allowed the team to take that car’s setup and add Richmond-specific tweaks that “worked out pretty good,” Wilson said Tuesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Late Shift.”

Sieg has kept his cars clean so far, finishing on the lead lap in every race but one (Bristol, 12th) and earning five top 10s. That’s the most in his seven-year, 133-race Xfinity career.

Shane Wilson has been heading Ryan Sieg’s surprise run in 2019. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Two weeks before Richmond, Sieg captured the first stage win of his career by not pitting late in Stage 2 at Texas Motor Speedway.

What Wilson has accomplished with the family owned team is a product of a late union and a “big departure” from what Wilson was used to just a few years ago with Richard Childress Racing.

Wilson, who last year was crew chief for Kaz Grala’s upstart Fury Race Cars, was hired a couple of weeks before Speedweeks in Daytona.

Since then, Wilson wakes up every Monday around 3:45 a.m. at his home in the Charlotte area and drives around 200 miles to the team’s shop in Sugar Hill, Georgia.

“Most times I get home by Wednesday night and then we go race,” Wilson said. “That’s kind of been my schedule so far. A little here, a little there. I chase parts in the Charlotte area, Mooresville some days. It gets me home a little quicker. There’s a few of us that make the trip down here and they have a nice little, kind of like a college dorm up above the shop and some of us stay there. It’s been fun. It’s different, it’s fun and it’s been challenging.”

Another part of Sieg’s surprise performance this year are the cars he’s been keeping unscathed. The team bought three new cars from RCR in the offseason.

“We had the ECR engine deal and it was good year to buy cars from RCR because they downsized from numerous Xfinity cars to a single car,” Wilson said. “I feel like we got good stuff.

“It’s a good relationship. The Siegs bought or leased engines from RCR for many years ever since they’ve been racing in the Truck Series. So they’re a good engine customer to ECR, bought a lot of chassis from Richard. That’s kind of where it stops. There’s a few different tiers that you can get nowadays and we don’t get simulation or any kind of parts tracking or the database or anything like that.

“Chevrolet helps us with a few tools. We have what we need and we don’t have a whole lot extra, but we have enough to compete.”

Wilson said recruiting talent to help out the small team is made easier with fewer Xfinity teams.

But he’s not just getting help from the North Carolina and Georgia areas.

“I got a good friend of mine doing our shocks now and shipped some more of those up to him in Vermont,” Wilson said.

Wilson said the experience reminds him of the days “when we volunteered and helped out our best friend.”

“Ryan has some experience, so he’s very helpful,” Wilson added. “His feedback is good now that we have current cars, good engines. More people working on it. We’re able to put up more of a fight at the race track.”