The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Driver struck by Stewart's car dies of massive blunt trauma; had reputation as a wheelman

  • Print

PORT LEYDEN, N.Y. - Kevin Ward Jr. was crafting a reputation as a wheelman, the kind of driver who could race vehicles on any track without fear.

He'd sit up on his seat, floor it, and zip his way through a maze of cars straight toward the front of the pack.

For points. For fun. Often for little money.

"He would go to tracks that a lot of other drivers wouldn't go to," Chuck Miller, the race director and president for the Empire Super Sprints circuit, said Monday. "If we had co-sanctioned races with other organizations where we really weren't giving points or anything, but it was a deal where you wanted to see how you stacked up against the other competition, the Wards were willing to go and do that and see where they were at."

Ward began racing go-karts in 1998 at age 4. In 2010, he moved on to sprint cars and was Empire Super Sprint racing rookie of the year in 2012. The 20-year-old raced mostly on dirt tracks a few hours from his home in Port Leyden, a village of 700 in northern New York.

Ward was killed Saturday night about 140 miles away at a clay track in Canandaigua. NASCAR champion Tony Stewart was the big name in the field, racing with the young guys while he was in the area for a Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen the next day.

Ward and Stewart tangled, and Ward hit the wall. Ward walked on the track apparently to confront Stewart, and was struck when Stewart's vehicle seemed to fishtail.

On Monday, several cars were parked in front of the Ward home in Port Leyden. A police officer stood across the street, politely asking reporters not to park on the road's shoulder.

Helen McHale has lived across the street for 30 years and remembers hearing the noise when Ward raced go-carts. Kevin Ward Sr. runs a successful painting business, and locals thought his son might make it big in the racing world.

"His dad goes to every race," she said. "He's a good kid, polite, big smile, and they're a good family."

Stewart and Ward shared a love of racing sprint cars: high-powered, winged cars built for running on short oval or circular dirt and paved tracks. Drivers have to hit the gas to turn, not necessarily use the wheel.

After the crash, Ward was standing to the right of Stewart's familiar No. 14 car on the dimly lit track. According to video and witness accounts, Ward was struck by the right rear tire and hurtled through the air.

Authorities questioned the 43-year-old Stewart once on Saturday night and went to Watkins Glen to talk to him again Sunday. Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said that investigators don't have any evidence at this point to support criminal intent. Povero said Monday there were no plans "at this time" to talk to Stewart again.

"At this time, there are no facts that exist that support any criminal behaviour or conduct, or that any probable cause of a criminal act, in this investigation," he said.

Povero said the autopsy was completed Monday and found Ward died of blunt force trauma.

Stewart said Sunday "there aren't words" to describe his sadness over Ward's death.

Stewart hasn't announced whether he'll drive in this weekend's NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway, but his short track "hobby" is on hold. He won't appear Saturday in a race in Warsaw, Indiana.

"It is still an emotional time for all involved, Tony included. He is grieving, and grief doesn't have a timetable," spokesman Mike Arning said Monday.

Canandaigua Speedway promoter Jeremie Corcoran said the track has cancelled Wednesday's event to give "my family, staff, fans, and racing teams time to grieve and process all that has occurred."

Driver Matt Tanner, a friend of Ward's, was a few cars back from the collision. Ward had been a good friend for years, a member of a small, tight group of drivers who travelled to various races around New York state, parts of Canada and Pennsylvania.

"I saw his car sitting there and when the ambulances pulled up I realized what was happening," Tanner said.

He hasn't watched the video and doesn't plan to.

"Your emotions are running so high. Stewart's known for being competitive, and Kevin was just as competitive," said Tanner.

So competitive that he'd take his life into his own hands by stepping into traffic in a black firesuit on a dark track?

No one will know for sure why Ward made the treacherous decision to stalk Stewart.

But perhaps he was inspired by Stewart himself. Known for his volcanic temper, Stewart is among the drivers who made highlight reels by tossing helmets at windshields or throwing punches at competitors. The action captivates fans and is part of NASCAR's allure — and inspires the next generation to mimic the bumping and brawling of their heroes.

What better way for a young driver to make a name for himself than being the one that stood up to Smoke?

Driver Cory Sparks, a fellow driver in Saturday's race, said he and Ward became friends five years ago. He said Ward was aggressive and competitive and that the two men had "had our feuds" but that he was proud to call him a friend.

"I don't want Kevin Ward to be remembered as a victim in a Tony Stewart accident," he said. "He definitely had a future in this sport. He was a very aggressive driver. He was one hell of wheel man."

Doug Elkins is a former race announcer who now writes about the sport. He had known Ward and his father for several years. Elkins said he expected rules prohibiting drivers from getting out of their cars during races will be better enforced around the country.

He hadn't heard of any bad blood between Stewart and Ward.

"Anyone would want to beat him, Elkins said, "he's Tony Stewart."

Memorial services will be held Wednesday at the Trainor Funeral Home in Boonville, New York. The funeral is Thursday.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Chief Clunis denies link between internal sexual-harassment investigation and Tina Fontaine case

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Marc Gallant / Winnipeg Free Press.  Local/Standup- Morning Fog. Horse prances in field by McPhillips Road, north of Winnipeg. 060605.
  • PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 060710 The full moon rises above the prairie south of Winnipeg Monday evening.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Which Jets prospect has the best chance of making NHL team this season?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google