Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Saddened Stewart skips Sunday race

Saturday's death on track stuns racing

  • Print

The stories of Tony Stewart's maturation began nearly a decade ago: NASCAR's bad boy had finally mellowed, the quick anger and the brutal honesty mostly behind him.

He wasn't the hot-tempered loudmouth who had taken stock-car racing by storm with three wins as a brash 28-year-old in 1999, following that with six victories a season later. No, as he rounded his 30s and entered his 40s, the stories about Stewart went on and on: He was introspective, wiser and calmer than he had once been -- even if traces of his old habits lingered.

"It was inevitable," The Associated Press quoted the three-time Sprint Cup champion as saying in 2011, "that I would eventually grow up."

On Saturday night, at a nondescript dirt track in Canandaigua, N.Y., not far from the Finger Lakes, Stewart participated in a sprint-car event. Indulging his longtime hobby of racing on the rough-and-tumble smaller circuits the day before Sprint Cup races, Stewart, 43, tangled under the lights at Canandaigua Motorsports Park with a 20-year-old driver named Kevin Ward Jr. About halfway through the race, Stewart bumped Ward, who spun out. Ward left his car and walked onto the track, apparently to confront Stewart, Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip Povero told reporters early Sunday morning. After one car swerved to avoid Ward, Stewart's car hit Ward, causing fatal injuries.

"We appreciate the prayers and support we are receiving from the community, but we need time to grieve and wrap our heads around all of this," Ward's family said in a statement released Sunday.

In a second news conference Sunday afternoon, Povero said no criminal charges had been filed, but investigators had interviewed Stewart in Canandaigua and were also sent to Watkins Glen, N.Y., where Stewart headed after the accident intending to race in Sunday's Cheez-It 355. His Stewart-Haas team manager, Greg Zipadelli, called it "business as usual," but after an outcry, Stewart withdrew shortly before the race.

"There aren't words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.," Stewart said in a statement released early Sunday afternoon. "It's a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I've decided not to participate in today's race at Watkins Glen. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy."

Shortly after the incident, Canandaigua was closed, the races ending early, as emergency workers rushed toward Ward and authorities questioned Stewart. Povero told reporters Ward had been pronounced dead upon arrival at a nearby hospital and Stewart was "fully co-operative."

"At this very moment, there are no facts in hand that would substantiate or support a criminal charge or criminal intent," Povero said.

But also in the early-morning hours of Sunday, a video, apparently showing the incident, was posted on YouTube. It showed Ward's black No. 13 car sliding around one of the track's elbows, Stewart's No. 14 at Ward's left. The two cars seemed to touch, and Ward's car spun out and hit the wall; a moment later Ward left the car and stood on the half-mile track pointing and gesturing, apparently toward Stewart. When the No. 14 car made its way back around the track, Ward still standing there, Stewart's car made contact with Ward, whose body was blown backward as Stewart's car fishtailed. Ward was then seen lying motionless as emergency workers rushed toward him, the camera then panning toward Stewart's car stopped on the track in the distance.

Ward is not the first driver to put himself in harm's way in a sport that has seen everything from helmet-throwing to fist fights. But the Canandaigua track was dimly lit and Ward was wearing a black suit, which might have contributed to the accident. It's one reason Povero is asking fans in attendance to send photos and videos of the accident to help piece together what happened.

"The timing was unsafe," driver Cory Sparks, a friend of Ward's who was a few cars behind Stewart when Ward was killed, told The Associated Press. "When your adrenaline is going and you're taken out of a race, your emotions flare."

Throughout his career, Stewart has been no stranger to on-track altercations that occasionally spilled onto pit road or into interviews. He punched a photographer in 2002, drawing a $50,000 fine. Stewart called out drivers, reporters and even fans, and sometimes his temper boiled over -- Stewart occasionally has had to be restrained by members of his crew. "I'll tell you, I don't know what's wrong with that boy," former driver Darrell Waltrip once said.

-- the Washington Post

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2014 C4

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

Jets defencemen ready to face adversity

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A group of Horese pose for the camera in the early evening light at Southcreek Stables in Stl Norbert Wednessday. Sept  14, 2011 (RUTH BONNEVILLE) / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Geese take cover in long grass in the Tuxedo Business Park near Route 90 Wednesday- Day 28– June 27, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Who should get more playing time in Jets net?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google