Here is the car of Tony Stewart, No. 14 on this night, bumping No. 13, Ward’s Tioga Construction car, spinning it right off the track and against a wall and out of the race. Here is Ward, who has spent so much of his life on dirt tracks like this one, getting out of No. 13, getting out hot, a clear case of road rage just without a car underneath him or a steering wheel in his hands, waiting for Stewart, one of the most famous drivers in this world, to come back around again at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
Now this all becomes a tragic and perfect storm at Canandaigua, one fueled by rage and class distinction and adrenaline and tempers as fast as the cars. You have heard about drivers of fast cars dying before, starting with Dale Earnhardt, the greatest of them all. Usually they die inside cars that have crashed and flipped and even exploded.
Flowers lay next to the front entrance of the Canandaigua Motorsports Park on Sunday in memorial of Kevin Ward Jr., who was killed after he was hit by Tony Stewart after exiting his car during a dirt track race at Canandaigua on Saturday night. Flowers lay next to the front entrance of the Canandaigua Motorsports Park on Sunday in memorial of Kevin Ward Jr., who was killed after he was hit by Tony Stewart after exiting his car during a dirt track race at Canandaigua on Saturday night.
There have been so many incidents when one driver went after another after a race, because of the kind of collision we got with Stewart and Kevin Ward Jr. Saturday night. Usually it all happens after the race, when both men are out of their cars.
But here comes Stewart back around the course at Canandaigua, under a caution flag now. The car in front of him swerves to avoid Kevin Ward Jr., who has come walking right out onto the track now, pointing at Stewart and his car, like he was looking to pick a fight with Stewart, right here and right now.
But only one of them was still in his car, Tony Stewart in No. 14.
NASCAR driver Tony Stewart ran over a competitor, 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr., during a confrontation at a sprint car race on Saturday night.
Then Stewart's car is seen hitting Ward because the kid who loved fast cars has walked out into traffic at Canandaigua Motorsports Park and before long that kid is a traffic fatality as certainly as if he had tried to cross against the light on Queens Blvd.
We will never know what Ward was thinking in the last moments of a young life, what he thought was going to happen once he got out of his car and took even a few steps onto that track, and into traffic. Only Stewart knows what he was thinking when the car in front of him was out of the way and there was Kevin Ward Jr., who imagined about having the kind of life because of fast cars that Tony Stewart, NASCAR champ, has had.
What we don’t know at this point is if Stewart could have or should have been able to avoid Ward the way the car in front of Tony Stewart had. That is for the police to investigate and for a district attorney to eventually determine. They say for now that it is being investigated as an in-race accident, and not a crime. It is awfully early to know if that will hold.
This is what Tyler Graves, another driver who called Ward his friend, told The Sporting News:
Tony Stewart Web Graphic
"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."
We heard Sunday morning, early, that Stewart planned to go ahead and drive in the Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen later; heard that it was going to be business as usual, even so close to the death of a 20-year-old young man. That was before Stewart came to his senses or his handlers did, and he decided not to race at Watkins Glen after all. Stewart was described as being quite shaken. He was also alive.
Kevin Ward Jr. was dead at 20. This is what you learned about him on his website Sunday:
"He has had racing in his blood for all . . . of his young life, and has raced for the last 13 of those years. In 1998, at the age of 4, Kevin was old enough to race his go-kart at some of the local tracks."
He kept moving up, and then he was running hard with big boys like Tony Stewart. Then one of the fast cars he had always dreamed about racing killed him. You can see it in a terrible video, if you are willing to watch. Now we need to know if that video tells the whole story about what happened at Canandaigua, on a night when it was as if Kevin Ward Jr.'s dreams, the world-famous driver he dreamed about being, ran him over and killed him.
by renowned sports columnist Mike Lupica.