While we call them top moments, unfortunately tragedy strikes the motorsports community. And with incredible implications pertaining to the situation, it makes it as one of the biggest stories of 2014.
August 9th, 2014 - Canandaigua Motorsports Park - New York State.
An Empire Super Sprint race has been brought to a standstill. The track quiet, apart from the whispers from the crowd and the sounds of safety personnel on the dirt track. Something tragic had happened ... A racer had died.
The racing world was rattled to the core and divided by spite, forgiveness, and just blissful ignorance. This was no 'racing deal.' This was different. This driver died outside his car. Kevin Ward Jr. was his name, and he was 20-years-old.
The young dirt track racer was racing side-by-side for position when he got pushed out of the grove, crashing. Furious, he exited the vehicle and approached the racing line. He had his finger aimed in the direction of the car he was battling with seconds earlier, but it was not your usual weekend warrior behind the wheel. It was NASCAR superstar Tony Stewart.
Drivers show their displeasure after wrecks all the time, but Kevin just got too close in a situation that I'd like to call a 'perfect storm.' You have an angry young racer who was reportedly impaired by marijuana in a dark firesuit, on a dark dirt track, and at night. The result was Stewart striking Ward, killing him instantly.
Cleared of all charges
An investigation was launched and an already wounded Stewart (still recovering from a broken leg one year prior) opted to sit out the next three races. This thick-skinned, tough racer was visibly shaken as a firestorm erupted around him. After going to a Grand Jury, he was cleared of all charges.
The impact of the incident has left an indelible mark on the racing community, has changed the life of Tony Stewart forever, and has cost a family their son. There are no words to do it justice, those that can just offer solace. To Tony and the entire Ward family, I pray that your wounds heal soon enough so that you can all carry on with your own lives. And to Kevin Ward, RIP.