“He is believed to be back in Watkins Glen [site of today’s NASCAR race] at this time,” Philip C. Povero, Ontario County, N.Y., sheriff told reporters Sunday morning. “Mr. Stewart has, again, fully cooperated with the police officers that are investigating. He was visibly shaken by this incident and has promised his continuing cooperation in this investigation.”
Stewart, as of early Sunday morning, was preparing to drive in the Sprint Cup race, with Stewart-Haas team manager Greg Zipadelli calling it “business as usual.” Stewart was expected to address the media before the race and the decision to race, according to NASCAR, was up to Stewart; a spokesman said nothing would preclude him from racing from the organization’s standpoint. No charges have been filed against Stewart him in connection with the death of 20-year-old Kevin Ward, Jr.
“This is right now being investigated as an on-track crash and I don’t want to infer that there are criminal charges pending,” Povero said. “I would only say that the investigation–when it is completed, we will sit down with the district attorney and review it. But I want to make it very clear there are no criminal charges pending at this time. This is an ongoing investigation.”
Stewart has made no secret of his passion for dirt-track racing and he drives on dirt tracks as often as possible — even to the detriment of his own health. He suffered a badly broken leg in a race a little over a year ago and was involved in a big crash at the same Canandaigua Motorsports Park track last year.
At around 10:30 Saturday night, Stewart and Ward bumped cars during the 25-lap race, with Ward’s car getting a flat tire from a collision with the wall. With the caution flag out, Ward stepped from the car onto the track, waving his arms and pointing at Stewart. Ward was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at about 11:15 p.m. A witness who is a sprint-car driver and friend of Ward’s described what happened to Bob Pockrass of the Sporting News:
“Tony pinched him into the front-stretch 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.”
Video of of the incident shows Ward wearing black and walking onto the poorly-lit track. (Warning: the video is disturbing.)
In a statement early Sunday morning, Stewart-Haas Racing said in a statement: “A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating,” the statement read. “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.”
Ward is from Port Leyden, N.Y., and, according to his website, he started racing go-karts when he was 4. He drove the No. 13 car for five years in the Empire Super Sprints circuit and won two 360 Winged Sprint races last year.