More than 700 celebrate life of fallen sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr.

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An overflow crowd of more than 700 mourners filled the South Lewis High School auditorium in Turin, N.Y., Thursday morning to say goodbye to Kevin Ward Jr., who was killed in a tragic accident during a sprint car race last Saturday.

Many of the mourners were dressed in orange, black and white – three of Ward’s favorite colors and also part of the color scheme on his race car – to remember the 20-year-old, who graduated from the school in 2012, according to Syracuse.com.

A number of mourners also wore shirts adorned with the inscription, “In loving memory of … WARD 13 RACING.”

Ward lost his life after accidentally being run over by the sprint car of three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart during a sprint car dirt track race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.

At least one fellow driver who was in the same race has said Stewart did everything he could to avoid Ward, who exited his race car and came down the racetrack in an attempt to reach Stewart and express his displeasure for a wreck that occurred just moments before.

Officials of the Ontario County (N.Y.) sheriff’s office are continuing to investigate the incident. Sheriff Philip Povero has said no criminal charges are being considered against Stewart at this time.

According to Syracuse.com, more than four dozen floral bouquets adorned the auditorium’s stage, including one large arrangement that featured Ward’s racing number, No. 13.

The web site also said Ward’s casket had a “white liner embroidered with two black and white checkered flags.”

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said Ward’s father, Kevin Ward Sr., honored his son by wearing “a Ward Racing shirt with a bright orange #13 on the right sleeve.”

Numerous testimonials were given about the younger Ward, including:

* “The reason for the orange and white is how bright the colors are. Even against black, orange and white does shine through.” – Ward’s older sister, Kayla Herring.

* “I’m the proud cousin of the amazing Budster (Kevin’s nickname).” – Ward’s cousin, Amanda Ward, who asked the audience to applaud her cousin, resulting in a lengthy standing ovation in his memory.

* “We were just two small town boys trying to make it in a big world, praying we would make it to the World of Outlaws.” – Ward’s best friend, Dylan Swiernik.

* “We love you and you will never be forgotten.” – Ward’s older sister, Kayla Herring.

There also was humor in celebrating Ward’s life.

Ward had three older sisters before he came along.

“You are the son our parents tried three times to have,” Herring said. “And what does that mean?”

All three sisters said in unison with a laugh, “Spoiled rotten,” eliciting a large round of laughter from the crowd as well.

Quoting scripture, the Rev. Kevin Westcott of the Finish Line Chaplain Ministries, who officiated at the ceremony, referenced the apostle Paul, who said in 1 Corinthians that to win a race, you must run to win.

“Run to win, that exemplifies Kevin’s attitude in a race car,” Westcott added. “How we run the race, and who we run it for, is really what’s important.

“Kevin ran every race with everything he had. Today I want to say, ‘Well done, Kevin.’ He finished well, he won his race.”

Westcott also asked mourners to not forget Ward.

“Don’t let this week be the final memories of Kevin,” he said.

As mourners left the school, numerous orange, white and black balloons were released into the air in Ward’s memory.

After the funeral, Ward was laid to rest in his hometown of Port Leyden, N.Y., a small town of about 700 in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains.

“If there wasn’t a dirt track in heaven before,” Kayla Herring said of her kid brother, “there is now.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Cooper solidifies PWC GT presence with Callaway Corvette

Callaway, Cooper, Gill. Photo: PWC
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Pirelli World Challenge could use a “face” of the series from a driving standpoint, and American Michael Cooper is a good candidate to fill that role for 2018.

Cooper, 27, has won PWC Touring Car, GTS and, most recently the SprintX GT titles within the series and has quickly blossomed into one of the series’ top GT stars.

It’s been a rapid rise for the Syosset, N.Y. native, entering into a world filled with series stars and champions such as Johnny O’Connell, Patrick Long, Alvaro Parente and a host of others.

But under O’Connell’s tutelage, Cooper admirably filled the rather gaping shoes vacated by Andy Pilgrim at Cadillac Racing, steering the Cadillac ATS-V.R to multiple race wins in the last two years – including a sweep of this year’s season finale weekend at Sonoma.

Cooper and Jordan Taylor were the model of consistency in SprintX this year, winning once at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and surviving contact at Circuit of The Americas to take that title.

With Cadillac withdrawing its ATS-V.R program at the end of the year though, Cooper was left a free agent for 2018. Fortunately with one door closed another opened, in the form of the GM-blessed but full Callaway Competition USA effort with its Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R that will come Stateside next year. Cooper and Daniel Keilwitz will be in the team’s two cars for the full season; the car was fully unveiled last week at the PRI Show in Indianapolis.

The Callaway is a proven commodity in Europe but couldn’t run in the U.S. unless the path was cleared by one of GM’s factory programs to end a direct, potential head-to-head competition.

Moving from the Cadillac to the Callaway Corvette should be a natural transition, Cooper said last week.

“It worked out incredibly well that GM decided to allow Calloway to run the car in the United States and it created an opportunity for me that wouldn’t have been there otherwise,” he told NBC Sports. “I talked to a lot of other GT teams and at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best direction for me to be competitive next year and to also continue furthering my career with General Motors.”

Indeed Cooper has graduated from the Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.R in GTS to the Cadillac and now to the Callaway Corvette. Cooper hailed the Cadillac team for what they did for his career growth.

“Working with Cadillac Racing has been instrumental in developing my abilities both on and off the track,” he said. “So I’m definitely a much more well-rounded driver now and have a lot of experience in the World Challenge GT field, so I kind of know what to expect going into that first race and going into that first corner in St. Pete.”

As noted, the car’s success in Europe means it’s a well-oiled machine by the time Reeves Callaway has worked with PWC to bring it Stateside next year. And as Cooper explained, discussions had been underway for a bit of time to ensure his presence in this car and team.

“I think the car is going to be extremely capable. It’s already won championships and races in Europe. I think, in bringing it over here, we’re going to hit the ground running straight away,” he said.

“Calloway had wanted me to come drive for them in July or August. We always kept in touch since then, and there was a lot of work trying to put together a program before they decided that they were going to do a fully fledged factory program. So once they made that decision, I think the pieces were kind of in place already, and the conversations had been had to be able to say ‘You’re going to be our guy.’”

December is late for IMSA programs to get finalized, but it’s relatively early for PWC, with the season not starting until mid-March in St. Petersburg. An extensive testing program should follow, as Callaway establishes its U.S. base and infrastructure.

“It’s definitely early for a Pirelli World Challenge program to be announced in December when we start racing in March. So that’s very good,” he said. “But, the team has a lot of work ahead of them in terms of getting infrastructure set up here in the United States, because a lot of their racing program has been in Europe. So, there will be a testing program, but they have to get the infrastructure in place first. But, we’ll be well prepared for St. Pete, I’m certain of it.

“Last year was the first year when I could sit back, kick my feet up, and know what I was doing next year. So, to be able to have everything done and be able to announce it this early on makes my life less stressful and now I can just focus on preparing myself and my team for next year.”