Ontario County Sheriff Phil Povero says Stewart has been 'cooperative'
NASCAR driver and team owner Tony Stewart was racing his sprint car tonight at Canandaigua Speedway in upstate New York in the Empire Super Sprint car series, and hit a driver who had left his car and was approaching Stewart, who was still under power.
Update: At a press conference that ended just after 3 a.m. ET, Ontario County (New York) Sheriff Phil Povero reported that the driver Stewart hit, 20-year-old Kevin Ward, Jr., was pronounced dead upon arrival at a nearby hospital at 11:15 p.m. ET. He described Stewart as "cooperative" and "very upset." The incident remains under investigation. No charges have been filed as of yet.
Ward was apparently angry about a move Stewart used in turn two of the race on the half-mile dirt oval track, which is about an hour from Watkins Glen.
A video shows that Stewart took Ward's black and orange number 13 high, causing him to hit the wall, flattening a tire. Ward got out of the car and began striding down the track, pointing his finger at Stewart. Stewart hit him with the right rear of his number 14 sprint car, though the video shows he appeared to try to swerve away from Ward. Ward lay motionless -- emergency workers were there in seconds. Though under caution, Stewart's car was still traveling at perhaps 40 mph, as were the other cars in the race.
Kevin Ward was taken by ambulance to a local hospital after a medical helicopter was called, then cancelled. He was from Port Leyden, New York. Stewart, who won his heat race, started the feature on the outside of the sixth row. The feature race was cancelled and fans were told to leave the track.
Who was Kevin Ward, Jr.?
From Ward's bio on his web site: "In 1998, 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 6 track championships and roughly 250 feature wins in only 8 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 4 DNF's 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 4th, 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 4th 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 6th, and captured three top fives and 4 top ten 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.
'2014 looks to be an exciting season as well, as Ward Jr. returns for his fifth season with the Empire Super Sprints."
He has four career ESS wins.
Stewart scheduled to race Sunday
Stewart is supposed to race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Cheez-it 355 Sunday at nearby Watkins Glen International Speedway, starting 13th.
The accident comes one year after Stewart was injured in a sprint car crash that sidelined him for the rest of the season. The Empire Super Sprint series sanctions 360-cubic-inch-engine cars, like the one Stewart was injured in last year. They are less powerful than the 410-cubic-inch sprinters the World of Outlaws uses. The WoO, incidentally, were at their biggest race of the year Saturday night, the Knoxville Nationals, won by Donnie Schatz, who drives for Tony Stewart Racing.
In July of last year, Stewart was racing his sprint car at Canandaigua when he touched off a 15-car wreck Tuesday at a dirt track in upstate New York that sent two drivers to the hospital with injuries. Alysha Ruggles and Paul Kinney were treated at local hospitals. Ruggles, 19, had pain in her lower back; Kinney had pain in his back and legs.
Stewart-Haas Racing Statement
"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 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."