A couple of dirt tracks in New York Monday added new rules prohibiting drivers from showing their anger at another competitor by running onto the track. But around NASCAR, it’s not a topic anyone wants to talk about.
Faced with the unique challenge of creating penalties for anyone who would essentially run into oncoming traffic, NASCAR officials decided it was best not to make drastic changes after one of its drivers, three-time champion Tony Stewart, struck and killed a 20-year-old racer Saturday at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.
Stewart’s sprint car bumped with Kevin Ward, Jr.’s car during a 25-lap feature race at the half-mile dirt track in upstate New York. Ward’s car came to rest against a guardrail. He climbed out of the car and ran onto the track, gesturing at Stewart as he drove by a lap later.
Stewart’s car struck Ward, hurtling him 50 feet. Ward was pronounced dead on arrival at a hospital.
Ward was known for racing without fear, said Chuck Miller, the race director and president for the Empire Super Sprints circuit. Ward started racing go-karts when he was 4, moving to bigger, more-powerful sprint cars three seasons ago.
Whether he was outraged by the accident or the opportunity to stand up to a three-time NASCAR champion, Ward even appeared to step toward Stewart’s car as it passed.
The track was poorly lit and Ward was wearing a black racing uniform and black helmet. There was another car ahead of Stewart as they approached Ward and that car had time to veer left to avoid contact. Stewart struck him with his right-rear tire.
Unlike NASCAR, Stewart didn’t have any communication with a spotter, so he wasn’t warned in advance that Ward was on the track to confront him.
An autopsy was completed Monday and it revealed Ward died of blunt force trauma. For now, Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said he doesn’t have any evidence of criminal intent. Stewart was released after he was interviewed Saturday and Sunday.
An investigation isn’t completed, but Povero said he doesn’t believe criminal charges will be filed.
Stewart decided not to race at Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. He also decided to skip another sprint car race Saturday night in Indiana.
His Stewart-Haas Racing team said it doesn’t know if Stewart will return for Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway.
Canandaigua Speedway promoter Jeremie Corcoran canceled tonight’s “Wacko Wednesday” racing program.
Corcoran said his family, staff, fans and race teams need “time to grieve and process all that occurred.”
Two other dirt tracks in New York quickly responded with a rule change that promises fines and/or suspension for any driver who gets out of a car on the track during a caution period.
Brewerton Speedway in Central Square and Fulton Speedway in Fulton both posted rules on their web sites Monday saying drivers must remain in their cars, unless it’s on fire, until they are freed by emergency workers.
If a driver gets out of his car without permission, the race immediately will be red-flagged and all cars will be ordered to come to a complete stop.
NASCAR doesn’t have a specific rule to address running into traffic, but it has fined drivers for doing it in the past — all part of the all-encompassing “actions detrimental to NASCAR” rule.