North Country Racer Killed In Speedway Crash
A young sprint car racer from Port Leyden was killed Saturday night when he was struck and killed by a car driven by three time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart.
Kevin Ward Jr. had exited his race car at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, apparently to confront Stewart.
(See video of the incident here. Be advised what's shown is explicit, and shows the impact and aftermath. )
A report from motorsport.com said Stewart struck Ward's vehicle, causing it to hit a wall. Ward got out of his car and began gesturing. Stewart's vehicle then strikes Ward.
Ontario County Sheriff Phil Povero said Stewart was "fully cooperative" with his department's investigaton, which Povero said was "not criminal." (Video of the sheriff commenting here.) However, investigators had not ruled out criminal charges as of late Sunday. An autopsy was to be performed on Ward Monday.
The Associated Press quoted Michael Messerly, a race fan who witnessed the crash as saying Stewart hit Ward as he tried to "speed past" him.
The Sporting News reported the comments of another driver - a friend of Ward's who was in the stands Saturday night - who said he believed Stewart could see Ward.
"I know Tony could see him. I know how you can see out of these cars. When Tony got close to him, he hit the throttle," Tyles Graves, the driver, said.
"When you hit a throttle on a sprint car, the car sets sideways. It set sideways, the right rear tire hit Kevin, Kevin was sucked underneath and was stuck under it for a second or two and then it threw him about 50 yards."
The New York Times reported Sunday that what Ward did, walking onto the track, is "not unhead of" in auto racing.
"Drivers will often try to confront other drivers directly on the track. In 2012, Stewart walked onto the track at Bristol Motor Speedway after a wreck with Matt Kenseth and threw his helmet at Kenseth’s racecar in disgust," the newspaper noted.
Several news organizations noted that Stewart has a history of confrontations with other drivers, as well as news media and NASCAR officials.
The track is located about 30 miles southeast of Rochester.
Ward, 20, was taken to a nearby hospital .
According to his autobiography posted on his web site, Ward began racing when he was four years old, with a go-cart. He has raced locally at Evans Mills.
Stewart was involved in a July 2013 accident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park that seriously injured a 19-year-old driver. He later took responsibility for his car making contact with another and triggering the 15-car accident that left Alysha Ruggles with a compression fracture in her back.
Because of Ward's death, and the death of anoher man, Joel Moser, in an unrelated fatal accident, Adirondack Speedway cancelled Sunday's races.
Stewart was scheduled to race at Watkins Glen Sunday. Greg Zipadelli, director of competition for Stewart's organization, initially said Stewart would race, but as of 10:30 a.m. Sunday, said Stewart would not.
In Lewis County Sunday, people who knew Kevin Ward Jr. and his family were stunned by the news.
Dylan Swiernik of Port Leyden, who said he was a close childhood friend and fellow racer, said "Kevin always drove like there's no tomorrow. He drove as hard as he could, every race."
The Ward family helped sponsor and revive Adirondack Speedway in New Bremen this year, although Kevin Ward did not race there.
"He was an outstanding driver, but more importantly he was an outstanding person," said longtime track announcer John Burr.
"When we decided to come back with Adirondack this year, Kevin and the whole family were over here to help us try to get things going."
Paul Lyndaker, the track's owner, said he was thinking about safety in the hours after the accident.
"I just feel bad, terrible that it happened. Could we have avoided it? We love to race but we have to be safe."
A representative of the family told CBS News “The family appreciates all of the prayers and support and would like time to grieve.”
Calling hours are from 12 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. on Wednesday at Trainor Funeral Home in Boonville.
Thursday, March 5, 2015, Watertown, NY