The Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff's Department confirmed early Sunday morning that a sprint car driven by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart struck and killed another driver who was standing on the track while a race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park was under caution.
Sheriff Philip Povero confirmed during an early-morning news conference that the driver struck on the track was pronounced dead on arrival at F.F. Thompson Hospital in Canandaigua. The driver was identified by track officials as 20-year old Kevin Ward Jr. of Port Leyden, N.Y.
Povero said authorities questioned Stewart at the scene and said he was cooperative and "very upset" about the incident. The Ontario County district attorney's office has been notified of the incident and will continue the investigation, Povero said.
The are no charges currently pending against Stewart, who returned after the incident to his motorhome at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International, site of Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen.
At approximately 10:15 a.m. ET Sunday, Stewart-Haas Racing's vice president of competition, Greg Zipadelli, said Stewart had decided not to compete in Sunday's race.
"He feels strongly this is the right thing to do," Zipadelli said of Stewart, with whom he has worked for 18 years. "It's an unbelievable tragedy. Very tough, very emotional."
Stewart was expected to return to the Charlotte area.
“There aren’t words to
describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward
Jr. It’s a very emotional time for all involved, and it is the reason I’ve
decided not to participate in today’s race at Watkins Glen," Stewart said in a statement released shortly after the start of Sunday's race.
Shortly after Stewart's decision was announced, NASCAR released the following statement: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fellow competitors
of Kevin Ward Jr. 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.”
Zipadelli said Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith was on his way to the track and would drive Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet in the race. Because of the driver change, Smith will start from the rear of the field.
A spokesman for Stewart provided the following statement to The Observer early Sunday morning:
"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."
Video of the incident shows Stewart's car striking Ward's while racing in a turn. Ward's car then spun and bounced off the wall, placing the race under caution. Ward quickly exited his car and is shown walking down the track while pointing toward Stewart as he comes back around the track. The right side of Stewart's car strikes Ward, dragging him briefly under the car and then leaves him lying prone on the track.
According to the track, all racing activities were halted for the night following the incident and fans were asked to return home.
Around 1 a.m. ET, the track posted the following statement on its Facebook page:
"Canandaigua Motorsports Park will not have an official statement on the accident that happened in the ESS race until tomorrow. Please pray for the entire racing community of fans, drivers and families."
Canandaigua Motorsports Park is a half-mile dirt track southeast of Rochester, N.Y., and about 50 miles northwest of Watkins Glen International. In recent weeks, Stewart has returned to dirt track racing after a breaking two bones in his right leg in a wreck at a dirt track in Iowa last summer.