Since Friday night, I’ve refrained from covering the incident involving three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion driver and two-time Chili Bowl Nationals winner Tony Stewart and a drunk police officer in the grandstands at the 2016 Chili Bowl in Tulsa, Okla. After reading multiple reports from those who did cover the incident, some I consider reputable and some not so much, and gauging public opinion via discussions and social media posts, I finally decided to weigh in with my proverbial two cents.
In case you somehow missed it, here’s the basic skinny on what happened:
Stewart, for the second year in a row, was assisting with track maintenance at the Chili Bowl. He was permorming those duties at the event on Friday evening as Cpl. Kyle Hess, who witnesses say was very intoxicated, heckled Stewart from the grandstands, flipping off the NASCAR and Chili Bowl champion and yelling at him. The various reports floating around all over the Internet included this one from Racer.com that sourced photographers working the area as saying that Hess called Stewart “murderer,” referencing the 2014 incident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in Upstate New York in which racer Kevin Ward Jr. died of injuries after being struck by a sprint car driven by Stewart.
Stewart made his way into the grandstands to confront Hess, asking him what his problem was. Several videos from various folks also in the grandstands near the incident, including this one, have found their ways onto Youtube. Because of noise, it’s difficult to hear the entire conversation between Stewart and Hess. But during the confrontation, Hess grabs Stewart and a member of event security pushes Hess back into his seat.
Fans of Stewart, critics of Stewart, and some who claim to be neutral parties have taken sides, with some saying Stewart was justified, others saying this is just another example of Stewart’s volatile temper. Others, meanwhile, think Stewart was justified, but it doesn’t help the wrongful death civil suit he faces that was brought by the Ward family.
Here’s how I see things:
Should Stewart have handled the situation differently? Probably. Do I understand why he confronted Hess? Sure. Was Stewart out of line? I’m not as positive on this one, but I don’t really think so. After all, Stewart, while he did confront the guy, wasn’t the one who made the situation a physical one. He just seemed to want to talk to Hess. Hess grabbed Stewart, and the security guy is the one whose contact dropped Hess back into his seat. Just from the video, I do disagree with reports that the blue-shirted security guy pushed Hess back into his seat. To me, it looked more like the security guy was trying to separate the two men, and in the process, the drunken Hess fell back into his seat.
I’m not even going to pretend to know what Stewart has been going through since 2014. Never being in a similar situation, I don’t really have a clue. And I’m not going to rehash my opion of what happened then. But maybe we need to cut this guy (I’m talking Stewart, here) a break. It’s not like he went into the stands and punched Hess’ lights out, far from it. Looks to me like Stewart just wanted to talk things out.
Well, those are my two cents. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.
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