In the world of motor sports, high-speed fatal collisions are an unfortunate and repeated occurrence.
Without a local track and organized competition in a lull, many of the recent automotive deaths in the Cayman Islands have been of the illegal street racing variety.
Outside of these shores, fatalities are occurring in the various forms of motor sports. The latest loss making headlines is that of a sprint car competitor killed by famed American driver Tony Stewart.
During a race in upstate New York over the weekend, the driver climbed out of his vehicle after wrecking and attempted to confront the three-time champion, who accidentally hit the young man while swerving to avoid him.
In a statement, Stewart said the crash has been “emotional” for all involved.
“There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.,” Stewart said.
The crash happened Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, a dirt track and an extracurricular race for a driver of Stewart’s stature. Stewart frequently races in the events as a hobby, with lucrative National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) races being his main priority.
Ward, a 20-year-old driver, had crashed following a bump with Stewart one lap earlier. Ward and Stewart were racing side-by-side for position as they exited a turn. Ward was on the outside when Stewart, on the bottom, seemed to slide toward Ward’s car and crowd him toward the wall. The rear tire of Stewart’s car appeared to clip the front tire of Ward’s car, and Ward spun into the fence.
Video showed Ward walking from his crashed car onto the racing surface as cars circled by, and, as he gestured at Stewart’s passing car, he was struck. He was standing to the right of Stewart’s familiar No. 14 car, which seemed to kick out from the rear and hit him. According to local police, Stewart’s car was traveling around 30-35 miles per hour at the time of the collision.
Authorities questioned Stewart on multiple occasions and while criminal charges were not ruled out as of Monday, investigators had not seen evidence to support the idea of there being foul play. Stewart made the decision to pull out of a NASCAR race in New York hours after the crash and had not indicated a time frame for his return to NASCAR.
The incident, while unfortunate, stems from a subculture within American racing. Getting out of a wrecked car to confront another driver is common since the vehicles can rarely be driven off the track and the driver has to get out to find his way back to either the pits or the garage. That process creates ample opportunity for angry confrontations.
Stewart has had a few angry outbursts of his own, along with other celebrity drivers like Jeff Gordon – who had pole position for Sunday’s race – and Danica Patrick. Fans encourage the eruptions as they enjoy the confrontations.
Saturday’s crash came almost exactly a year after Stewart suffered a compound fracture to his right leg in a sprint car race in Iowa. The broken leg cost him the second half of the 2013 NASCAR season. Stewart only returned to sprint track racing last month, and won in his return, at Tri-City Motor Speedway in Michigan. Canandaigua Motorsports Park is the same track where Stewart was involved in a July 2013 accident that seriously injured a 19-year-old driver. He later took responsibility for his car making contact with another and triggering the 15-car accident that left Alysha Ruggles with a compression fracture in her back.
Stewart, who owns an Ohio dirt track called Eldora Speedway, said last month that competing in the smaller races was a hobby.
“Everybody has hobbies. That’s what I like to do when I have extra time,” he said. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with doing it. I feel like there are a lot of other things I could be doing that are a lot more dangerous and a lot bigger waste of time with my time off do than doing that.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.