I’m sure most, if not all, of the racing community and race fans have heard of the tragic death of sprint car racer Kevin Ward Jr. at Canandaigua Speedway in upstate New York on Saturday night after an incident that also involved NASCAR Sprint Cup Series three-time champion Tony Stewart.
After an incident between the two drivers on-track, Ward’s car wound up wrecked. He then got out of his car, yelling and gesturing at Stewart as other cars, including Stewart’s, drove by under caution at about 40 mph. Stewart’s right-rear tire struck Ward and Ward died in an ambulance en route to a local hospital.
Social media has been abuzz about the incident and headlines are all over the place, even on sites and news outlets that normally don’t seem to give two flips about racing, especially racing series that don’t get the attention of NASCAR and mayby IndyCar during Indianapolis 500 festivities. I guess this one grabbed their attention because of the big news of a death; then add to that the fact that one of the biggest names in NASCAR was involved.
I find it at least somewhat disturbing that many headlines are making it seem as if Stewart did this on purpose, or maybe I’m just reading too much into their headlines. Why do I say that? I’m reading several headlines that say something to the effect of “Tony Stewart kills sprint car driver.”
And judging by some fan posts on social media, many people believe that. Nevermind the fact that video circulating on social media shows Stewart trying to swerve to miss Ward. Some point to the fact that Stewart accelerated. Those folks don’t realize that that’s how sprint cars are essentially driven — more with the gas pedal and less with the steering wheel.
Yeah, sure, drivers are heated after on-track incidents, but heated to the point of murder? I doubt it. Besides, if we’re pointing fingers, here, what about the driver who got out of his car and approached moving cars on a race track. I rest my case, but I’d like to state that I’m not pointing fingers, at least not yet.
Police are investigating the incident, so maybe we should leave judgement to the proper authorities.
What disturbs me even more, though, is the likelihood that Ward is probably going to be remembered most as the driver ran over by Tony Stewart. That will overshadow Ward and his racing accomplishments, I’m sure. I think that’s evident by the fact that most of the headlines mention Stewart by name, but not Ward.
To do my part in trying to prevent that from happening, here’s Ward’s bio from his KevinWardRacing.com website:
“Kevin Ward Jr. is just 17 years old (has turned 20 since this bio was written) and he is the pilot of the Rider Racing Engines Powered #13 360 Sprint Car. He has had racing in his blood for all 17 years of his young life, and has raced for the last 13 of those years. In 1998, at the age of four, Kevin was old enough to race his go-kart at some of the local tracks. He got second place his first race and went on to win six track championships and roughly 250 feature wins in only eight years of go-kart racing.
“The following year, the Ward Racing team looked for a new challenge. They purchased a 270 Micro Sprint. His success from the go-kart days carried over, and Kevin found victory lane in his very first Micro Sprint race. He went on to score six more victories that year, and finished second overall in points in 2007. In 2008 and 2009 he won the championship, along with another 30 victories.
“In 2010, the team moved up to the 360 Sprint Car division. In his first year, Kevin scored five top five finishes, eight top ten finishes, and had only four DNFs with over 30 events raced. He came very close to winning his first 360 Sprint Car feature in his rookie year, finished seventh in the Empire Super Sprint point standings, and was named 2012 Empire Super Sprint Rookie of the Year.
“The following year was event better for Kevin, as he picked up his first career Sprint Car feature win at Autodrome Drummond on June 4, 2011. This was a great achievement for the young racer, and most memorable moment of his career to date. He also won two Dash for Cash events and ended the season with 11 top five finishes, 16 top ten finishes and finished fourth in the Empire Super Sprint point standings.
“The 2012 season was a bit of a struggle for the young racer. He did manage to pick up a win at Mohawk International Raceway on July 6 and captured three top fives and four top 10 finishes on the season. Ward finished 14th in the ESS point standings.
“After a disappointing season the previous year, Ward Jr. was determined to come back strong in 2013. He returned to victory lane with the ESS on May 31st at Autodrome Granby, and just two weeks later he was back in the winner’s circle in the first ever ESS Asphalt Assault at the Evans Mills Speedway.”
As for Stewart, he’ll sit out the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International on Sunday. Instead, Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith will drive the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet normally driven by Stewart. Here’s a statement from Stewart-Haas Racing and True Speed Communications, the public relations firm that represents Stewart:
“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 loast 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 difficulat time.”
All I’m asking right now is that if you’re praying and/or thinking about Ward and his family this Sunday, maybe while you’re at it, you should send some of those thoughts and prayers Stewart’s way, too. Just saying.
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