Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart ran over and killed 20-year-old sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr. during a race Saturday night. The deadly string of incidents began when Ward and Stewart were racing side-by-side at a sprint car race in Canandaigua Motorsports Park, located some 30 miles southeast of Rochester, New York. When they were exiting a turn, “the rear tire of Stewart's car appeared to clip the front tire of Ward's car, and Ward spun into the fence,” reports the Associated Press. As can be seen in the (warning: very disturbing) video, Ward got out of his car and appears to be quite angry. He seems to want to confront Stewart on foot and walks straight into the racing area wearing a black firesuit and black helmet.* One car swerved to avoid him, before Stewart hit him and sent Ward flying down the track. Ward was taken to the hospital by ambulance but was pronounced dead on arrival.
Hours after initially saying it would be “business as usual” on Sunday, his team later changed its mind, announcing that the NASCAR champion would not be racing at Watkins Glen International. "It's an emotional time right now," Greg Zipadelli, vice president of competition for Stewart-Haas Racing, said. Zipadelli says he met with Stewart Sunday morning and “he feels strongly this is the right thing to do,” reports USA Today.
Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said that “this is right now being investigated as an on-track crash and I don't want to infer that there are criminal charges pending.” He added that despite being “visibly shaken” Stewart had cooperated with the investigation.
A Stewart spokesman issued a statement early Sunday morning:
"A tragic accident took place last night during a sprint car race in which Tony Stewart was participating. Tony was unhurt, but a fellow competitor lost his life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. We’re still attempting to sort through all the details and we appreciate your understanding during this difficult time."
Correction, Aug. 10, 2014: A portion of this post originally said Stewart was the one who got out of the car to confront Ward when it was the other way around.