Sheriff: Driver hit by Tony Stewart in sprint car race has died

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The Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s Department has confirmed the death of a sprint car driver that was hit by three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart in an incident Saturday night at the Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.

During a race at the half-mile dirt track, Stewart caused 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. to spin out. That caused Ward to get out of his car to confront Stewart, but he was then struck by Stewart’s car.

Early Sunday morning, Sheriff Philip Povero confirmed that the driver was pronounced dead on arrival after being taken to a local hospital.

Povero also added that Stewart has been “fully cooperative” with the ongoing investigation.

“He is very upset and has confirmed his continuing cooperation,” the Sheriff said according to RochesterHomepage.net.

The district attorney’s office has been notified and as of now, no criminal charges have been filed.

Stewart is thought to have returned to Watkins Glen International. Jim Utter of the Charlotte Observer has relayed word from sources that say Stewart still plans to compete in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen.

A video of the incident was briefly posted on YouTube before it was removed, and started with Stewart and Ward going side by side through Turn 2. There, Ward was squeezed on the high side and then spun, his car sustaining a flat tire in the process.

Seconds later, Ward exited his car, pointed a finger toward Stewart’s oncoming car, and then walked farther down the track toward him. Stewart’s car then clipped Ward, who was thrown back 50 feet according to the Associated Press.

A full summary of the incident has been released by the Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s Office. It reads:

On Saturday, August 9, 2014, at or about 10:30 p.m., there was an on-track incident at the Exit of Turn 2 at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park, during the Lucas Oil SuperSprint Feature race. The race was in Lap 14 of a 25-lap race, when one car lost control and spun coming to rest along the outside retaining wall. The race was immediately put into caution, slowing the cars on the track. The driver of the car that spun exited the race car and walked down the track onto the racing surface. Two racecars traveling in tandem approached as the driver continued down the track, gesturing to the two approaching cars. The first car swerved to avoid the driver out on the track. The second car, operated by Tony Stewart, struck the driver. The driver was treated by on-track medical staff and was transported to F.F. Thompson Hospital where he was pronounced deceased at 11:15 p.m. At this point, Mr. Stewart has cooperated with the investigation, which is ongoing. The Sheriff’s Office has asked the individuals who possess amateur video, to please make contact with this office so that copies of the video accounts can be obtained for review. Please contact the Sheriff’s Office at 585-394-4560.

Stewart’s camp has also released their own statement:

“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.”

Canandaigua Motorsports Park cancelled the rest of its racing on Saturday after the incident took place. It later said on its Facebook page that it would not have a statement ready until Sunday.

Per his bio on his official web site, Ward was in his fifth season with the Empire Super Sprints series. He claimed the series’ rookie of the year award in 2012.

Stewart has recently returned to sprint car racing after sustaining a broken leg in a crash last August at the Southern Iowa Speedway.  In the previous month of July 2013, Stewart set off a 15-car incident at the same Canandaigua track that sent at least one driver to the hospital.

Our thoughts are with all involved at this time…

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).