Updated: 08/11/2014 2:20 PM
Created: 08/10/2014 12:27 PM WHEC.com
Family, friends and community members are mourning the loss of a young racer after he was killed in a sprint race late Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
Deputies say Kevin Ward Junior was hit by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, after Ward lost control of his vehicle and walked onto the track. Stewart is not facing any charges and deputies say the investigation is not criminal.
Twenty-year-old Ward is from Port Leyden, a small town between Utica and Watertown. Community members say they will get through the tragedy.
“He was always nice. He knew how to crack a joke and bring a smile to everyone’s face. He was always determined, and he was a good racer,” said Brett Compo, Ward’s childhood friend.
It was a talent Kevin Ward Junior developed at a young age. Those who knew Ward described him as a man who loved racing. They say he started his career with go-kart racing at the age of four. This was his fifth season racing with the Empire Super Sprints.
“I didn’t get to go to the races much, but I heard a lot about them. Yes, he was very well liked and a very good driver from what I understand. He grew up with my son, and I was friends with his mom and dad. They are a very good family, and he was a very good boy,” said Robert Shue, a neighbor.
Ward’s death is felt throughout the community.
“It’s unbelievable. I couldn’t believe that it happened,” said Shue.
“I felt bad for his parents and everything. You don’t really think about it until it’s someone you know,” said Kelly Myers, whose daughter went to high school with Ward.
Dozens of people stopped by the family home to show their support in this time of need.
One woman, Lynn Hardy, considers herself an aunt to Ward. She lives right across the street from the shop where he and his family worked on his racecars.
“Normally the guys are working on his car, and now it’s empty. It’s very hard, very hard. He was too young,” said Hardy.
Compo grew up with Ward, playing basketball and going to high school together. Compo says he is trying to make sense of it all.
“I was in shock at first, but I knew that he was doing something he loved, so I’m glad he was doing something he loved when he passed,” he said.
Ward’s family says they are thankful for the prayers and support of the community, and they are taking time to grieve. They say they are working on funeral arrangements which, for those that would like to attend, will be made public in a few days.
Statement from Tony Stewart's racing team Stewart-Haas Racing:
“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.”
Social media reaction:
Prayers to the Ward family...very tough situation and sad to hear about such a tragedy— Matthew DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) August 10, 2014
Heavy hearts in the racing world today.. Thoughts and prayers going out to Ward his family and friends..asking Him for strength for them..— Elliott Sadler (@Elliott_Sadler) August 10, 2014
Thoughts & prayers for all impacted by accident in NY last night, especially family of Kevin Ward, Jr. Heartbreaking for everyone. #NASCAR— Brett Jewkes (@BJewkes) August 10, 2014
As I head out to the car my thoughts and prays are with the Ward family— Greg Biffle (@gbiffle) August 10, 2014