Accessibility/Mobile Features
Skip Navigation
Skip to Content
Editorial News
Sports
Classified Sites

The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Investigators reconstructing Stewart crash; studying lighting, dirt-track conditions

In this Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 photograph, Tony Stewart stands in the garage area after a practice session for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, in Watkins Glen N.Y. Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr., 20, a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York on Saturday night. Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said his department's investigation is not criminal and that Stewart was

Enlarge Image

In this Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 photograph, Tony Stewart stands in the garage area after a practice session for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Watkins Glen International, in Watkins Glen N.Y. Stewart struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr., 20, a sprint car driver who had climbed from his car and was on the track trying to confront Stewart during a race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York on Saturday night. Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said his department's investigation is not criminal and that Stewart was "fully cooperative" and appeared "very upset" over what had happened. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

The collision was as common as any in racing. Kevin Ward Jr.'s car spun twice like a top, wheels hugging the wall, before it plopped backward on the dimly lit dirt track.

In a sport steeped with bravado, what happened next was another familiar, but treacherous, move: Wearing a black firesuit and black helmet, the 20-year-old Ward unbuckled himself, climbed out of the winged car into the night and defiantly walked onto the track at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.

He gestured, making his disgust evident with the driver who triggered the wreck with a bump: three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, who continues to race in sprint cars on dirt tracks. Many NASCAR drivers, including Stewart, got their start on the short ovals.

Ward, a relative unknown compared to NASCAR's noted swashbuckler, was nearly hit by another passing car as he pointed with his right arm in Stewart's direction. As he confronted Stewart in his passing car, disaster struck.

Ward was standing to the right of Stewart's familiar No. 14 car, which seemed to fishtail from the rear and hit him. According to video and witness accounts, Ward was sucked underneath the car and hurtled through the air before landing on his back as fans looked on in horror.

Ward was killed. Stewart, considered one of the most proficient drivers in racing, dropped out of Sunday's NASCAR race at Watkins Glen, hours after Saturday's crash. And the sport was left reeling from a tragedy that could have ripple effects from the biggest stock car series down to weeknight dirt track racing.

"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.

There was no immediate decision if Stewart would drive in this weekend's NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway.

Stewart "will have as much time as he needs to make that decision," spokesman Mike Arning said Monday. "It is still an emotional time for all involved, Tony included. He is grieving, and grief doesn't have a timetable."

Arning said Stewart's extra-curricular racing plans are on hold until further notice.

Plymouth Speedway in Warsaw, Indiana, said on its website that Stewart would no longer compete in Saturday's race. Canandaigua Speedway promoter Jeremie Corcoran said Monday 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."

Authorities questioned the 43-year-old Stewart once on Saturday night and went to Watkins Glen to talk to him again Sunday. They described him as "visibly shaken" after the crash and said he was co-operative.

On Sunday, Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said that investigators also don't have any evidence at this point in the investigation to support criminal intent. But he also said that criminal charges have not been ruled out.

Povero said on Monday there were no plans "at this time" to talk to Stewart again. There is no timetable as to when the investigation will conclude or autopsy results will be finished, he said.

The crash raised several questions: Will Ward's death cause drivers to think twice about on-track confrontations? Did Stewart try and send his own message by buzzing Ward, only to have his risky move turn fatal? Or did Ward simply take his life into his own hands by stepping into traffic in a black firesuit on a dark track?

The only one who may have that answer is Stewart.

David Weinsten, a former state and federal prosecutor in Miami who is now in private practice, said it would be difficult to prove criminal intent.

"I think even with the video, it's going to be tough to prove that this was more than just an accident and that it was even culpable negligence, which he should've known or should've believed that by getting close to this guy, that it was going to cause the accident," he said.

The sheriff renewed a plea for spectators to turn over photos and videos of the crash. Investigators were reconstructing the accident and looking into everything from the dim lighting on a portion of the track to how muddy it was, as well as if Ward's dark firesuit played a role in his death, given the conditions.

Driver Cory Sparks, a friend of Ward's, was a few cars back when Ward was killed.

"The timing was unsafe," he said of Ward's decision to get out of his car to confront Stewart. "When your adrenaline is going, and you're taken out of a race, your emotions flare."

It's often just a part of racing. Drivers from mild-mannered Jeff Gordon to Danica Patrick have erupted in anger on the track at another driver. The confrontations are part of the sport's allure: Fans love it and cheer wildly from the stands. Stewart, who has a reputation for being a hothead nicknamed "Smoke," once wound up like a pitcher and tossed his helmet like a fastball at Matt Kenseth's windshield.

"I've seen it many times in NASCAR, where a driver will confront the other one, and a lot of times they'll try to speed past them. And that's what it appeared to me as if what Tony Stewart did, he tried to speed past Ward," witness Michael Messerly said. "And the next thing I could see, I didn't see Ward any more. It just seemed like he was suddenly gone."

The crash also raised questions about whether Stewart will continue with his hobby of racing on small tracks on the side of the big-money NASCAR races. He has long defended his participation in racing on tracks like the one where the crash happened, even as accidents and injury have put his day job in NASCAR at risk.

Saturday's crash came almost exactly a year after Stewart suffered a compound fracture to his right leg in a sprint car race in Iowa. The injury cost him the second half of the NASCAR season and sidelined him during the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Stewart only returned to sprint track racing last month.

The crash site is the same track where Stewart was involved in a July 2013 accident that seriously injured a 19-year-old driver. He later took responsibility for his car making contact with another and triggering the 15-car accident that left Alysha Ruggles with a compression fracture in her back.

"Everybody has hobbies," he said last month, adding that "there are a lot of other things I could be doing that are a lot more dangerous and a lot bigger waste of time with my time off do than doing that."

__

AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer, AP Sports Writers John Wawrow and John Kekis and AP Writer David Klepper contributed to this report. Gelston reported from Philadelphia.

  • Rate this Rate This Star Icon
  • This article has not yet been rated.
  • We want you to tell us what you think of our articles. If the story moves you, compels you to act or tells you something you didn’t know, mark it high. If you thought it was well written, do the same. If it doesn’t meet your standards, mark it accordingly.

    You can also register and/or login to the site and join the conversation by leaving a comment.

    Rate it yourself by rolling over the stars and clicking when you reach your desired rating. We want you to tell us what you think of our articles. If the story moves you, compels you to act or tells you something you didn’t know, mark it high.

Sort by: Newest to Oldest | Oldest to Newest | Most Popular 0 Commentscomment icon

You can comment on most stories on brandonsun.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is register and/or login and you can join the conversation and give your feedback.

There are no comments at the moment. Be the first to post a comment below.

Post Your Commentcomment icon

Comment
  • You have characters left

The Brandon Sun does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. Comments are moderated before publication. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

Election 2014
Brandon Sun Business Directory
The First World War at 100
Why Not Minot?
Welcome to Winnipeg

Social Media