UPDATED: STEWART DROPPING OUT OF TODAY'S RACE
Racing fans are in shock at the actions of NASCAR driver Tony Stewart during a dirt track sprint car race last night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York that has taken the life of a fellow race car driver, Kevin Ward, Jr. Amateur video shows Stewart's car spinning out the car driven by Ward, bringing out the caution. As many race car drivers do in reaction to such incidents, Ward jumped out of his car and began waving his hands as Stewart came back around the track. According to witnesses, Stewart gunned his car as he approached Ward, causing it to slide sideways. Ward was pulled underneath the rear of Stewart's car as it was struck by the rear tire. Horrified fans looked on at Ward's lifeless body lying on the track as safety crew members arrived to help him. The New York Post has this account from another driver:
You can hear the motor rev just before the car hits the driver.
Tyler Graves, a sprint-car racer and friend of Ward’s, told Sporting News in a phone interview that he was sitting in the Turn 1 grandstands and saw everything.
“Tony pinched him into the frontstretch wall, a racing thing,” Graves said. “The right rear tire went down, he spun on the exit of (Turn) 2. They threw the caution and everything was toned down. Kevin got out of his car. … He was throwing his arms up all over the place at Tony for most of the corner.
“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. 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.”
Graves said he didn’t believe it was intentional.
“You never mean to do something like that,” Graves told Sporting News. “Kevin was pissed and he let Tony know. And Tony was trying to give the message back that he wasn’t happy either. He went over the line with it.”Stewart, a Columbus native, was in Watkins Glen, New York where NASCAR's road coarse race is being run today at the Watkins Glen International Speedway as part of NASCAR's Sprint Cup series. A police investigation of the incident is being launched to determine if criminal charges will be filed against Stewart. The sprint car race was cancelled following the incident. Stewart still plans to race in today's race despite the uproar over his actions last night.
Stewart has been criticized in some corners for continuing to participate in dirt track races following a July, 2013 wreck in which he broke his leg, an injury that took him out of NASCAR racing for the rest of the season last year. Nonetheless, Stewart returned to sprint car racing last month in his #14 sprint car.
According to kevinwardracing.com, Ward was only 17 years old; however, news reports have listed his age as 20. He began go-kart racing when he was only four years old. Ward had raced his #13 Rider Racing Engines sprint car in the 360 Sprint Car division since 2010 where he was still looking for his first victory. Stewart-Haas racing released the following statement:
"A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating. Tony was unhurt, but a fellow competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. We’re still attempting to sort through all the details and we appreciate your understanding during this difficult time."According to CNN, Stewart plans a 1:00 p.m. press conference today to address last night's tragedy before getting in his car to race at Watkins Glen.
UPDATE: Stewart has had a change of heart. His racing team now says he will not race at Watkins Glen today. Regan Smith will replace him according to the AP. Below is footage of a press conference at which Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero discusses his office's ongoing investigation, emphasizing that no criminal charges have been filed at this time against Stewart.
This incident with Matt Kenseth where Stewart throws his helmet at Kenseth's car and threatens to "run him over every chance he get" will come back to haunt him.
Stewart released the following statement early this afternoon on Ward's tragic death:
“There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. 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.”