The tragic killing of young driver Kevin Ward Jr. by three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart could have a massive ripple effect in NASCAR as Stewart impacts nearly every aspect of the sport, including several racing series, sponsorships, and racing teams. Stewart-Haas Racing decided to pull out of the race this weekend and will not comment on its plans going forward. Meanwhile, NASCAR is reeling from the news.
The incident took place in Canandaigua Motorsport Park in New York Saturday. After a collision between Ward and Stewart which resulted in Ward’s car crashing into the wall, Ward climbed out and walked into the middle of the track. After nearly being hit by one car, Ward remained undeterred, gesturing in disgust at Stewart’s oncoming car. CBS Tampa Bay describes the tragic event:
Ward was standing to the right of Stewart’s familiar No. 14 car, which seemed to fishtail from the rear and hit him. According to video and witness accounts, Ward’s body was sucked underneath the car and hurtled through the air before landing on his back as fans looked on in horror.
Ward was killed. Stewart, considered one of the most proficient drivers in racing, dropped out of Sunday’s NASCAR race at Watkins Glen, hours after Saturday’s crash. And the sport was left reeling from a tragedy that could have ripple effects from the biggest stock car series down to weeknight dirt track racing.
After SHR initially signaled that Stewart would race Sunday at Watkins Glen, the team wisely reversed course and announced he would pull out, a move with significant ramifications in the points system, and Stewart issued a statement.
“There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.," said Stewart in a statement Sunday. "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. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and everyone affected by this tragedy.”
As NBC affiliate 9News reports, the tragedy’s ripple effects for NASCAR could be “enormous”:
The essence of Tony Stewart is that he touches nearly every part of auto racing. The three-time NASCAR champion owns short tracks, races grassroots series in his spare time and has ownership stakes in a multitiered racing empire with interests in NASCAR and sprint cars (and a partner, Gene Haas, who will enter Formula One).
After his car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. in a Saturday night race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park, the ripple effects could be enormous across myriad racing series, sponsors and teams.
Former crew chief Any Petree said during ESPN's pre-race broadcast Sunday that Ward's death would be "a watershed moment for racing in general." "Even if there's rule changes or procedure changes going forward," said Petree, "it's going to be something every race car driver will think about it. The impact of this tragic event is going to be felt from here forward. I think you'll see a lot of changes."
Authorities have questioned Stewart, but say no charges were imminent. Stewart-Haas Racing is staying relatively silent as the investigation into the accident takes place, a move commended by communications firm president and former NASCAR exec Ramsey Poston, who said that in this situation "the facts are critically important" and SHR should limit their comments to "the facts and only the facts as they continue to cooperate with law enforcement."
Here’s footage of the accident (warning: graphic material):