Columbus native Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward Jr. had raced each other on the sprint-car circuit as many as five times before Saturday’s fatal accident, the race director for the sprint series said Sunday.
Chuck Miller, president and race director for the Empire Super Sprints circuit, said the two drivers knew each other and had competed various times during the past four years.
There have been no other incidents between the two drivers at any time they were on the track together, Miller said.
Ward died Saturday night after he and Stewart were involved in an on-track incident at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park on Saturday night, and Ward’s car went out of control and into the wall. The two drivers were racing in sprint cars.
Investigators said Ward got out of the car and walked toward the center of the track, gesturing at two oncoming cars who were approaching under “caution.” The second car, driven by Stewart, hit Ward as Stewart’s car appeared to slide to the right.
It is the second racing fatality for the Empire series in more than 30 years, Miller said, and particularly difficult as the fatality involved a driver who wasn’t racing when the incident occurred. The first fatality involved a crash.
Miller described Ward as a very talented driver who had moved into sprint-car racing in 2010 from go karts as a 16-year-old. Ward was the Empire Super Sprints rookie of the year in 2010, finishing seventh in the points standings, Miller said.
There is no rule that a driver must stay in his sprint car after an accident until medical crews arrive, Miller said. That’s because the fuel that the cars use isn’t visible when burning and drivers know that if a sprint car could catch fire, the priority is to get out of the racecar, Miller said.
Race organizers do ask drivers to stay with the vehicle until the track crew arrives, but it isn’t something that is strictly enforced in the organization, he said.
It is not commonplace for drivers to leave their sprint cars and approach other drivers still in the race, but sometimes competitive juices get going, and it does happen, Miller said.
The racing series will continue Friday in New York. Miller said there will be a tribute to Ward, although specifics haven’t been worked out.