Tony Stewart’s Chili Bowl Tantrum Is Inexcusable

File under: Rich celebs behaving badly.  

Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty

The off-duty Tulsa County Sheriff’s deputy who hectored Tony Stewart from the Chili Bowl Nationals grandstands this weekend didn't know what was coming.

Corporal Kyle Hess went to the racetrack Friday night to drink a little beer and watch the largest event in the Midget racing series. When he arrived, three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Tony Stewart was working on the grounds crew tending to the dirt surface. Stewart is a dirt-racing obsessive; he evens owns Eldora, the famed Ohio dirt circle. In between qualifying heats, Deputy Hess reportedly yelled obscenities at Stewart from the grandstands, and may have even flipped him the bird.

The 44-year-old racer's temper is legendary. It was even implicated in a tragic incident last year, when his car struck and killed fellow racer Kevin Ward at an Empire Super Sprints race in Canadaigua, New York. In Tulsa, the heckles eventually got under Stewart’s thin skin, and amateur video captures him hopping into the stands and confronting Hess, as two security guards stand by.

“What’s your problem with me?” asks Stewart.

“I don’t like you and I never have,” Hess responds.

Tony puts his hand on Hess's shoulders, and not in a friendly way. The chanting crowd—Tony! Tony! Poke his eyes out!—drowns out the rest of the conversation.

But we can see Stewart's hands on Hess’s shoulders. There is jostling. Eventually, Hess pushes Stewart back, and that’s when the security shoves Hess back into his seat. The crowd erupts, and Stewart leans over Hess. The video stops. It’s an unsavory and entirely unnecessary exchange.

Tony Stewart is an average guy who happens to have otherworldly skills behind the wheel of a car. But he’s also media savvy, and he knows there’s a covenant that elite athletes need to live by; when they don't, they come off as rich guys being dicks to poor guys. For Stewart, having fuck-you money means he can actually say fuck you to your peers and the media. But the average dude in the grandstands is off-limits. You get to be rich and adored; he gets to buy a ticket to the races and drink in public. Those are the rules. That's the agreement.

It's hard to image Aaron Rodgers hopping into the stands at a University of Wisconsin game and getting a fan's face. And if he did, the NFL would almost certainly impose a fine, and rightly so. But Rodgers is a classy guy, and a gracious one. Stewart is famously generous and loved by many. This behavior ask questions—again—about his restraint.  

So if a drunk Sheriff’s deputy with a spare tire wants to razz you from the cheap seats on a Friday night, it’s your job as a NASCAR-crown-wearing multi-millionaire to ignore him. And if you can’t do that, you tip your cap, thank him for coming and keep on walking. Sure, he’s obnoxious. But you’ve got all the power. Fans can’t come onto the track and pop you. Therefore, you can’t go into the grandstands and bully him—especially with help of two bodyguards.

Deputy Justin Green of the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office tells The Drive that the incident, and Hess’s conduct, is under investigation. We think Stewart’s should be as well.