Whos Zooming Who? Matt Mclaughlin
September 10, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Some Tony Stewart fans really amaze me. When a story broke on Friday alleging that Stewart had shoved a female fan after the Bristol race the reaction of many fans on the message board was “Let’s withhold judgment until all the facts are known. Tony is presumed innocent until proven guilty.” Fair enough. But within twenty minutes many of these same people were accusing the woman who says she was pushed of being a gold-digger out to claim a little fame and fortune from an incident that never occurred. I guess she’s guilty until proven innocent, huh? What’s more when confronted with the fact that a police officer witnessed what happened and there are Stewart fans who immediately called that officer a liar. Of course he doesn’t stand to profit a dime from the incident. You can't sue someone because you saw them shove someone else. In fact, if evidence surfaces his story is false, he’ll be out a job for perjuring himself and he stands to be sued by Tony Stewart. What’s more when he goes looking for a new job, down south he’s likely to be interviewing with a boss who has a shelf full of 20 car diecasts in his office or has a brother who manages a Home Depot. The term “Chronically Unemployable” comes to mind. It’s interesting to me that as we as a nation prepare to recall the heroism and the tragedy of 9-11, some Tony Stewart fans are willing to call a police officer a liar and a scoundrel. I guess cops are all heroes until they talk bad about Tony Stewart, huh?
Even NASCAR official’s website ran an article that at least implied that the woman in question is a liar. After all, that writer points out, it took ten whole days before the woman went to the police and filed a complaint. The fact is she’s from West Virginia, not the Bristol area. Doubtless she took time off from work to attend the Bristol race weekend. Maybe ten days was as soon as she could arrange to take another entire day off and drive hundreds of miles to fill out a complaint? According to the information released to date, this woman didn’t go running to the police officer screaming Tony had shoved her. The police officer observed her being shoved, and approached her to ask if she wished to pursue the matter. She said she wanted time to think about it. According to the fullest account I’ve found of the story, at that point she stationed herself outside Stewart’s trailer, and would have been satisfied with an apology. When Stewart emerged she asked him to apologize. Apparently Stewart said he was sorry. But as he walked off he muttered some unkind comments about fans in the garage area and that led her to believe the apology was not sincere. Could she have found the cop who witnessed the act and told him she’s changed her mind. Perhaps. But instead she left. Some cite that as damning evidence. My guess is she just wanted to consider what she wanted to do. Had she been in it for money she’d have called the shop that Monday, been given a nice big check and you’d never have heard of this latest mess Tony has gotten himself into. Why take time to consider it? Well if she’s smart this woman used some of that time to get an unlisted phone number and a home security system. Once her name is made public the media is going to be calling at all hours of the night and day and camped in front of her doorstep. Angry Tony Stewart fans will be looking for that phone number as well, and I doubt those calls will be very pleasant. It wouldn’t be preposterous to say the alleged victim may very well fear for her own safety. And certainly she has to have mixed emotions about what’s she doing. After all of the 43 drivers in the garage area after the Bristol race, she approached Stewart doubtless to ask for an autograph or picture. That seems to indicate she is (or was) a Stewart fan. Maybe she just wanted to tell Tony she didn’t believe one word of all that media garbage alleging he punched a photographer at Indy and that she was still 100% behind him. Wouldn’t that have been ironic?
The latest poison pen notes on message boards seem to indicate not only is the police officer who witnessed the incident corrupt, he works for a corrupt police department. After all, why else did the cops wait until a race weekend to talk about this incident and why did they hand out a pre-printed press release. The answers are fairly simple. Because most of the people they wanted to talk to live in and around the Charlotte area, it was easier to interview them all at the racetrack where they gather each weekend. Why the press release? Imagine yourself the chief of a rural police force. This story breaks and the media will be swamping the phone lines asking what happened and what happened next. And of course those phone lines are needed for emergency calls. So the department came up with a succinct little press release detailing what was going on and the media could file their stories. Very efficient, and a well thought out plan by someone with the foresight to see a potential problem.
Oh, and it’s that damn media again, making trouble for Tony because you can’t get media credentials unless you hate Tony. Like I keep trying to explain to people I’m sorry I have to do this but it’s the only way I can keep those big checks Lowes pays me to humiliate a competitor’s spokesperson rolling in. What is alleged to have happened is a story. If you don’t like the story, deal with it. If it was some other driver, you’d want all the dirt, but since it’s your boy, the media should ignore a story that could potentially lead to a contender in this year’s championship bout being out a sponsor or ride prior to the end of the season. Imagine a scenario where the grand jury takes awhile to convene, hear testimony and decide Stewart should face charges, and in that same time period Stewart wins the championship. Wouldn’t that be a special moment for NASCAR to have their reigning Winston Cup champion sitting in a court of law facing assault and battery charges? Oh my yes, that would do the sport’s image a ton of good. Sort of like Alan Iverson is a credit to the NBA. And he says he didn’t do nuffin’ either.
Joe Gibbs said in his statement there were six people who walked with Stewart from his race car to the hauler and none of them said they saw such an incident take place. (Actually what they’re saying is they didn’t see anything out of the ordinary occur. Perhaps they’re hedging their bets so they can later claim if caught lying, “Hey , he does that every week.”) Gibbs all but admits those six people are assigned to walk with Tony after a race to keep him out of trouble, a tactic admission Stewart is a ticking time bomb that needs to be baby-sat. To me this is the most troubling part of the story. You have six people plus Tony Stewart all of whom say the incident did not happen. You have an alleged victim and a cop who say it did. There’s no middle ground here. There’s not one side saying the incident was a shove and the other claiming it was inadvertent contact. You have one side saying it didn’t happen. You have the other side saying it did. Someone is lying.
I have to look at the motivation behind the two parties. The six people saying nothing happened are all in league with the twenty team. They know if these charges are proved there are going to be very serious consequences, not in a court of law where this is pretty trivial, but in the form of an enraged sponsor currently writing huge checks that pay the witnesses’ salaries. Then you have Tony who says no such thing happens. I’m sorry, but I know Tony Stewart to be a liar. That’s not an opinion. That’s fact. After an article in which he blasted fans in the garage area ran in Winston Cup Scene, Stewart said he was misquoted. That’s not the case. Two journalists sat there and listened to what Stewart had to say. They made a tape of the interview and that tape contains every quote attributed to Stewart. The very same quotes he denies making. Had that tape not been made and had Stewart convinced that writer’s editor the story was fabricated, that writer would have been out a job. No, he doesn’t get paid what Stewart does, but he earns a living too, and to lose your job because of a lie told about you is pretty rank. Tony Stewart fans seem to believe that’s the case, for Tony anyway.
It’s not like the incident is out of character. In fact Stewart has managed to attack almost every group that’s allowed in the garage area; fellow drivers, journalists, photographers, NASCAR officials, and now allegedly a fan. All he needs to do to complete the set is to assault a police officer. I highly recommend he not try that.
You’d think an organization headed by Joe Gibbs would have more integrity than that. I’ll give Gibbs the benefit of the doubt and say he’s misinformed, not lying. But I was shaking my head watching him deliver Saturday night’s invocation knowing too often in Stewart’s case, Gibbs doesn’t practice what he preaches, personal accountability.
What’s the cop got to gain by lying? He’s got nothing to gain and everything to lose. Until facts or a videotape appear that provide evidence to the contrary, I’m going to believe that police officer saw what he says he saw. If the victim is so hungry for publicity, why hasn’t her name been released?
I believe Tony Stewart shoved a female fan and that’s a shameful act. If you believe otherwise I respect your opinion, so please respect mine. I don’t run NASCAR, I don’t run Home Depot, and I’m not in charge at Joe Gibbs racing, so there’s not much I can do about a driver I feel frankly has become an embarrassment to this sport. What I can do, and what I plan to do is to stop shopping at the Home Depot about ten minutes away from here. I’ll go to the Lowes store though it’s another five minutes away. I’ll try to convince my family and friends, some of whom are contractors, to do the same. It’s the only avenue of protest open to me as an average race fan. In the long run getting run out of Winston Cup would probably be in Stewart’s best interest as well. He says he’s miserable. I would never deny that he’s an incredibly talented driver. Doubtless there a number of teams in the IRL that would love to hire him, despite his off track reputation of being a thug. He could win a bunch of races, probably an IRL title, and make a bunch of money by most people’s standards if not by the standards of Winston Cup. But Stewart says it’s not about the money, right? He’d have fewer fans and less media to bother him, and more room in the garage area. The open wheel cockpit would doubtless better suit his claustrophobic condition he swears he suffers from. And the sad fact of the matter is one person leaving is going to make the Winston Cup garage area a lot safer more pleasant place as well.