A day ago, few outside of Canandaigua, N.Y., knew or had ever heard of Kevin Ward Jr. Today, that’s not the case.
Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, Ward was struck by a sprint car driven by NASCAR veteran Tony Stewart. Ward was pronounced dead later at a local hospital.
No charges have been filed against Stewart as police investigate. He was scheduled to race in the Sprint Cup race Sunday at Watkins Glen, N.Y., but the manager for Stewart's racing team, Greg Zipadelli, told the Associated Press that Stewart will not compete.
Ward’s story is not unlike that of any young man with giant dreams, modest resources and a passion for racing.
According to his website, kevinwardracing.com, the 20-year-old has had “racing in his blood” all of his life. He has raced for 16 years starting in go-karts when he was 4. The site boasts of a brilliant start finishing second in his first race and winning six track championships and 250 main-event races in the eight years he competed in go-karts.
In 2007, he advanced out of go-karts and started racing Micro Sprint cars. The site said he won his first race at that level and won seven races that season, finishing second in overall points.
He was said to win the series championship the next two seasons, winning 30 races along the way. Next up for Ward was the 360 Sprint Car series. He didn’t win any races and finished seventh in points for the season. He was named Empire Super Sprint rookie of the year.
On June 4, 2011, according to his site, he won his first Sprint Car feature at the Autodrome Drummond.
In 2012, he slowed down a bit, winning only race and finishing 14th in the standings. He won two races last year in the 360 Super Sprints.
Is it likely he would have come out of the series and one day raced on the big circuit? Probably not.
But as police investigate, it may be learned if it was in character for him to get out of his car and seemingly try to confront Stewart as amateur video seems to show.
What is known now is he is gone and racing has to deal with this tragedy.