ONTARIO COUNTY, New York — NASCAR driver Tony Stewart hit and killed another driver who was walking on a track during a dirt-track race in upstate New York, authorities said early Sunday.
Kevin Ward Jr., 20, died from injuries suffered in the incident, which occurred Saturday night at the Empire Super Sprints series event at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
The track is about a two-hour drive from Watkins Glen International race track, where Stewart had been scheduled to race in a NASCAR event Sunday.
“There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.,” Stewart said Sunday, according to a written statement tweeted by NASCAR. “It’s a very emotional time for all involved. … My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”
Stewart’s team director Greg Zipadelli said Sunday morning the driver has decided not to drive in the event.
“Our hearts go out to Kevin’s family,” Zipadelli said. “This is a very tough, very emotional time for everybody — his family, our family at Stewart-Haas Racing.”
On Saturday night, Ward’s sprint car hit the outside wall during lap 14 of a 25-lap race, Ontario County Sheriff Philip C. Povero said.
A video of the incident [scroll down] shows two cars coming out of a turn with Stewart’s No. 14 car sliding up the track toward Ward’s No. 13 car. The two cars get close and appear to make contact before Ward’s car hits the wall and spins out. Another car narrowly avoids hitting the 13 car as its sits on the track facing the wrong direction.
Ward gets out of his crashed car, walking on the track toward the race cars, which had slowed for a yellow flag. Ward points a finger and appears to be yelling. One car swerves to avoid Ward on the half-mile dirt track.
Stewart’s car passes close to Ward, and it appears that its right rear tire hits him.
An ambulance took Ward to a hospital, but he died before it arrived, Povero told reporters.
“Stewart has fully cooperated” with an investigation, Povero said. “He acknowledges the collision with the driver.”
Povero said it appeared to an on-track incident.
“But I want to make it very clear, there are no criminal charges pending at this time,” he said.
Ward, from Port Leyden, was in his fifth season in the Empire Super Sprints series. He began racing when he was 4 years old, running go-kart events.
Stewart’s spokesman said they are trying to sort out the details.
“A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating,” Mike Arning said. “Tony was unhurt, but a fellow competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”
A competitor, which runs the car that swerved around Ward, expressed sympathy.
“Our deepest condolences go to the entire Ward Family. We are one huge ESS family, you will be truly missed bud! #RIP13,” Hebing Racing tweeted.
Stewart is a three-time champion in NASCAR’s top division and also won a sprint car championship in 1995.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward Jr.,” NASCAR said in a written statement Sunday. “We support Tony Stewart’s decision to miss today’s race and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor this situation moving forward.”
Regan Smith will replace Stewart on Sunday, Zipadelli said.
Stewart also owns a dirt race track in New Weston, Ohio, and has frequently raced sprint cars during the NASCAR season. He broke a leg last year in a crash that ended his racing season. He has raced the full NASCAR season this year, but only returned to sprint cars in July.
Video of the incident was posted to YouTube. WARNING: This video is graphic.