Kevin Ward jr
On August 9, 2014, Kevin Ward walked into the path of the car driven by Tony Stewart at Canadaigua Speedway just after the caution came out for Kevin's spin. He was killed when he got tangled with the right rear tire on Tony's car.
After a month long investigation, Tony was not charged with any wrong doing.
A year later, to the day, the family filed a wrongful death civil suit against Tony, (and probably the track, the promoter and ESS the sanctioning body).
You'll find my take on what happened at the end of this story.
Kevin was a gasser. He lived and died on the cushion. He was fearless and aggressive to the point of getting himself in trouble at times. And you have to wonder what the mindset is of someone who decides to have a black car with bad luck number 13.
I had been racing with Kevin on and off since he started four or five years ago. He ran
with ESS primarily but had branched out and was hitting some of the races out of the area.
Yes, Kevin was a gasser. His line was on the cushion and his style was on the pedal.
I remember one night when there was no cushion and I was, joking with him about
seeing him on the bottom. He said it wasn't working for him. However, Kevin won an ESS
race on pavement, so he could get it done on the bottom when necessary.
A year or so ago at CanAm, I wasn't racing but went there to make a deal on a motor and hangout with Dave Ely. He was pitted near the pit exit that lines up with the front straight. Kevin was pitted next to him. I sat on top of Ely's trailer and watched.
At the start of Kevin's heat, he pulled out of the pack and ran along the wall heading for the cushion in one. Kevin attacked the track with intensity. He was passing cars when someone slipped up to the cushion just at entry and Kevin ran over him in a big way and flipped several times.
They brought the car back and dropped it at Kevin's trailer. He and his crew were taking scrap off the car. Kevin walked around calmly bringing out replacement pieces. There was some time, and he could make the Bmain if they could finish soon enough so I went over and started helping. Wings and mounts, front axle, arms, bars, front and rear, wlink, bumpers, nerfs, headers....about everything but the tank, seat, steering, and motor.
Kevin called the shots, picked the parts, advised the assembly, and measured the setup. I could see that he was a complete racer, not the just driver of his father's car, this was Kevin's car.
His father helped with the crew to put a car back together. They didn't make it in time for the Bmain but Kevin had a provisional available and went through the setup so the car would be right and fast. I talked to his father for a while and Kevin a bit after. I decided to help him because I saw he needed help but also thought he might deal with me more carefully on track if we knew each other better.
I didn't race Canandaigua the night Kevin died. We had trouble with the tow
rig after the race the night before, that couldn't be repaired in time.
From my experience, reading the reports and viewing the video, this is my take on what happened at Canadaigua.
1. Kevin made three mistakes that night. The first was that his
judgement was impaired from doing pot earlier that day according to the
2. It was 23 seconds between Kevins spin and Kevin getting hit.
A normal racing lap is 17+ seconds so this was a quick lap where the yellow
came out and the drivers were slowing but still at speed most of the lap to
catch up to the leader and get in line.
3. Tony has run a lot of sprint races against lots of different cars. He
had not raced with this group this year. It is probable that he wouldnt
remember much about Kevin's car as he caught and passed him during the race.
It would have been just another car in the hundreds of different sprint cars hes raced
with and once he was past, at corner entry, that car was out of mind. Things
happen fast in sprint car racing and you dont have time, or need, to think
about what's behind you. There are no mirrors.
4. Kevin was inexperienced in racing a slide job. He stubbornly held
his outside line on the cushion expecting that he would beat Tony to the middle of the
turn. Kevin was able to see Tonys path throughout the whole pass in that
corner, but Tony could not see Kevin again, once he passed him going in and then went to
the bottom of the corner and throughout his slide back to the cushion.
Kevin was behind him once he passed at the end of the straight.
5. If Kevin had been able to get up fully beside Tony before Tony got to
the cushion, Tony would have seen him in his perifery and had to lift.
But Kevin didnt get up beside Tony enough to be seen and Tony completed
the slide job and picked up the cushion mid corner.
6. Kevins second mistake is that he should have lifted, turned toward
the bottom of turn two and he probably would have beat Tony out of the turn
and been ahead in the back straight. That would have been good racing and
they would probably had the same battle, trading spots for a couple laps and the crowd
and the two drivers would have loved it. That's the fun of racing!
7. It is unlikely that Tony knew he had anything to do with the caution
that came out. His right rear tire may have touched Kevins left front,
or not, but if he did touch it, he probably didnt feel it. The right rear
carries most of the car weight at that point in the turn and Kevins front
end would be very light at that point in the turn as the car transfers
weight to the rear with Kevin on the throttle. A very light tap to the front end
will instantly pivot a car out of control. Tonys right rear caught the
cushion about the time when he got to Kevins left front, and he would have
felt the cushion but probably not a touch to Kevins left front, if it even
8. It looks to me like Kevin was moving up the track a bit as he saw Tony
coming and went over the cushion and lost it without being touched.
9. As Tony was catching up to the lead cars after the caution, as they
entered turn one, vehicles with flashing yellow lights were moving to the
track from the infield on Tonys left side and that would attract the
drivers attention away from the outside where Kevin's stationary black car was.
10. When Kevin spun and wrecked he should have stayed with his car.
When he did get out, he could have picked up a clod of clay and thrown it
at Tony or just gestured his unhappiness but it appears that he wanted to get in his face..
11. His third mistake was that he walked into the line of traffic that
was just slowing down from 110 mph racing. He couldnt get Tonys attention
without getting inside of the wings obstruction of view. You have to get
nearly in front of the car when youre that close to be seen and to see the
12. The wing side panel on the right side of the car obscures vision to
the right, as well as does the headrest, the head and neck restraint restricts
the helmet from turning much, plus the hood and side arm guard further restrict
the view. Vision to the right is very limited because of the low wing side
panel and the protections for the driver. There remains a narrow slot of
vision below the wing and above the arm guard, just sufficient for racing
and the line of sight there is chest level and toward the track surface. It is
mostly peripheral vision for that area.
13. It is unlikely that when the caution came out, during the remainder
of the fast 23 second lap, that Tony had any idea that the caution was for a
car that he had passed the lap before. Once you pass a car its out of mind
and on to the next. It is doubtful that he could even have identified the
spun car. He saw the tail of the car when he passed a lap ago
and now it was now turned around and off track.
14. When the line of cars came by, Kevin was already in the way of the
car that was in front of Tony, and that car appears to dodge left away from him.
That car would have screened Kevin from Tonys view and Tony would have had
only a couple of seconds to see Kevin in a black uniform against a
background of darkness, before his own wing obscured view of him. Once
Kevin saw Tony's car he came toward the car. Kevin
would have to be close to the line of travel to be able to see Tony around
the wing side panel and gesture his frustration so that Tony could see it.
15. Kevin was on the shadow side of Tonys car looking back toward the track
lighting on the inside. The right side of the line of cars that passed Kevin were in
full, backlit shadow. Kevin still had his helmet on and visor down so his vision was somewhat
restricted. You don't need a lot of vertical vision when you are racing but it can be
aukward when you are walking because there is no downward periferal view...
you can't see your feet or even several feet in front of them.
Dust from the track gets on the inside and outside of the visor
and fogs the view a bit at this point in the race. That along with the tearoffs creates a glare
when you are looking toward the lights like looking toward the sunset through a dirty window.
Kevin was shifting around to position himself, while on a banked surface.
There is not a lot of banking there, but moving around on the slant can throw off your balance and
judgement a bit.
The poor visibility of the black tires on the right side, in the
backlit shadow of the car and wearing a helmet with the visor down, looking toward the lights,
and moving around on a slanted surface, would all contribute to Kevins misjudgement,
along with the pot, adrenaline and single minded anger of the moment.
16. Sprint cars turn with the throttle as much as with the steering
wheel. To dart quickly to the left to avoid something, you would turn left and hit
the throttle. It is instinct in these cars.
17. Did Tony hit the throttle?
After careful analysis of the videos, the Ontario County District Attorney
Michael Tantillo said. "The videos did not demonstrate any aberrational
driving by Tony Stewart until the point of impact with Kevin Ward, at which
point his vehicle veered to the right up the track as a result of the
collision. Prior to that, his course was pretty straight."
18. There was sound of an engine rev but It would be impossible to tell who hit
the throttle from the singular mono sound on the video. Tonys right front nearly hit Kevin
so if he HAD gotten on the throttle,the rear of the car would have stepped out
to the right and the right front would not have been as close to Kevin.
The front tires would also have been turned to the left to help kick the
rear out or turned to the right to maintain a straight line of travel or
pivoted if the rear stepped out without turning the steering wheel.
In the video,none of that happened.
The front wheels are straight and so is the path of the car.
19. Having only a couple of seconds to react to someone coming toward his
path, as Kevin moved toward Tony's car, Tony was unable to avoid contact with Kevin.
The right rear tire extends a foot out past the right front and the wing side panel and
in his last second, Kevin misjudged his location and walked into the path of the moving tire.
He was just a couple steps too close.
Kevin made three mistakes that night that got him into trouble. He was on
drugs, he was inexperienced with the slide job and he got too close to a
In my opinion, Tony had only a couple of seconds to react to someone
suddenly being in his way. During those few seconds, its unlikely that he was able to connect
Kevins actions with something that went on behind him a lap ago and then
decide to hit the throttle in retaliation or intimidation. Instead, he was just trying to avoid
hitting someone and it all happened so quickly and unexpectedly that he couldn't.
Sorry Ward family, we all feel really bad for the loss of your son and our fellow racer,
but you are going to have to accept that it all occurred due to his own poor judgement.
And if you did know that he was doing drugs that night,
you shouldnt have let him race at all,
for his own safety and the safety of rest of the drivers.
If you knew, you should take part of the blame.
If you want to see how slide jobs are raced check out the video of this
race, the 2015 Ironman 55 won by Shane Stewart (no relation to Tony):
... and thats my take.