The motorsports world was rocked early Sunday morning when news broke that three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart was involved in a fatal crash at a dirt sprint car race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.
The incident claimed the life of 20-year-old driver Kevin Ward Jr., a second-generation driver from Port Leyden, N.Y. Police said Sunday no criminal charges were planned in the incident.
According to his racing web site, Ward started racing go-karts at the age of four and "had racing in his blood" for all his life. Through his eight years in go-kart competition, Ward Jr. recorded six track championships and roughly 250 feature wins.
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From go-karts, Ward made the move to Micro Sprints for the 2007 season, scoring seven wins and a runner-up finish in the overall points. He followed up that performance by winning the 2008 and 2009 Micro Sprints championship, along with recording 30 wins.
After success in the Micro Sprints, Ward moved to the 360 Sprint Car division in 2010, scoring his first sprint car feature win at Autodrome Drummond in June 2011, and earning the 2012 Empire Super Sprint Rookie of the Year title.
Ward scored victories at Autodrome Granby and at Evans Mills Speedway in 2013. This year was Ward’s fifth season in the Empire Super Sprints, and he sat seventh in the 2014 tour point standings.
Chuck Miller, the race director for the Empire Super Sprints Series, said Ward impressed his competitors early on.
"He was very talented," said Miller. "When he came here, you could see the raw talent he had right away."
Miller said Ward was a hard charger from the beginning.
"He was a good kid, coming in as a 16-year-old," said Miller. "He was fearless, he was fun to watch. He would run hard and run fast. … Everybody knew he was the future of our sport and our organization."
Miller also said Ward’s family was very supportive of their son’s career. And he admitted the accident had left him shaken up.
"It’s a tragic loss," Miller said. "It hits me hard, because he’s the same age as my youngest daughter. Had he not gotten out of the car, it would be a non-story, but it is what it is."