Reaction to the death of Kevin Ward Jr. was predictable and heartfelt as NASCAR starts to figure out how to deal with this tragic situation.
Ward, 20, was struck by a sprint car driven by NASCAR superstar Tony Stewart on Saturday night at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in upstate New York. Ward was pronounced dead at the hospital later in the night.
Stewart originally said he would race in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International Raceway in New York but had a change of heart overnight and withdrew from the race.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends and fellow competitors of Kevin Ward, Jr.,” NASCAR said in a statement.
“We support Tony Stewart’s decision to miss today’s race and we will continue to respect the process and timeline of the local authorities and will continue to monitor the situation going forward.”
AJ Allmendinger offered his condolences to the Ward family after he won Sunday’s race, saying, “We’re a community here, we’re thinking about you.”
Some of NASCAR’s top drivers weighed in on the tragedy via Twitter.
“We will all (lose) someone in our time,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. wrote. “When a loss is sudden and unexpected, the pain & sadness is suffocating. Prayers for the Ward family.”
Jimmie Johnson said this: “Racing with a heavy heart today ... Thoughts and prayers for the Ward family.”
Greg Biffle tweeted: “As I head out to the car my thoughts and prays are with the Ward family.”
H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, former president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, said that in his 50 years of watching races, he can’t recall another time when a race car struck a driver who had left his car. Usually, he said, drivers don’t immediately get out of their cars after wrecks.
He said there are no rules in auto racing prohibiting drivers from leaving their cars immediately after wrecks. But he said he wouldn’t be surprised to see that change as a result of Ward’s death.