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.”

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MRTI: Herta standing tall, riding wave of momentum in Indy Lights

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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It would be hard to top the month of May that Colton Herta is coming off of.

The 18-year-old, now in his second year competing in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, enjoyed a sweep of the three Indy Lights races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning both events on the IMS Road Course – charging through the field to do so (he fell back as far as sixth and fourth between Race 1 and Race 2) – and outdueling Andretti Autosport stablemates Pato O’Ward and Dalton Kellett to win a frantic Freedom 100.

In short, it was a near perfect month for the young Herta.

“It’s super special to win in Indy and to get do the triple there at a place that’s so nostalgic, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Herta told NBC Sports about his Indy success.

And all three were thrilling drives in which Herta spent the entire time battling with rivals – Santi Urrutia on the IMS Road Course, and the aforementioned O’Ward and Kellett, and Urrutia as well, in the Freedom 100.

Colton Herta edged Pato O’Ward to win the Freedom 100. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Herta is no stranger to winning – he won twice in 2017 (Race 2 at St. Petersburg and Race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park) – both times in dominant fashion.

As he explained, it isn’t necessarily more challenging to dominate a race versus battling rivals the entire way, but different mindsets are required to survive each.

“It’s a different skill set,” he asserted. “Obviously when you start up front, there’s a lot more pressure to perform, so it’s more about managing the gap to the guys behind. Whereas you’re not as nervous when you’re in the back of the pack, because you can’t go any further back. So there’s less nerves going into the race. And it’s more about attacking the whole time and taking a little more risk.”

In discussing his Indy victories more, Herta detailed that outdueling opponents in intense duels – like the ones at Indy – comes down to thoroughly analyzing one’s opponents and making aggressive, yet smart passes.

“You can see what the guys are doing ahead of you, and obviously if you follow them for a lap or two you can see where they’re struggling and you can make up ground on them,” he explained. “And that’s the biggest thing: going for an overtake that you can make – especially when you’re in the running for a championship fight like this – going for an overtake that you know you can make without taking a massive risk, and kind of seeing the tendencies of the car in front of you and where they’re struggling and when you’re making up time.”

Herta’s run of recent success comes as more evidence of a driver who appears to be more polished than he was last year. While blisteringly fast – Herta captured seven poles in 2017 – there were also a number of errors that kept him from making a more serious championship challenge.

Though Herta began 2018 with a somewhat ominous crash in Race 2 at St. Pete, the rest of his season has been much cleaner. He finished third in Race 1 at St. Pete and second and third at Barber Motorsports Park before his run of victories at IMS.

Still, despite the appearance of a more polished driver, Herta explained that his approach is no different than it was in 2017.

“Not much has changed,” he asserted. “The mindset obviously is still the same because, especially with a (seven car field), you need to win races and you need to win quite a few of them to win the championship. (Staying out of trouble is about) just kind of settling in and knowing that a second or third place, or even a fourth or fifth place, isn’t terrible to take every now and then.”

And because the field in Indy Lights is small this year – only seven cars are entered at Road America – Herta revealed that maintaining a hard-charging style and going for race wins is paramount, in that the small fields make it harder to gap competitors in the title hunt.

“It’s hard to create a gap. On a bad day, you’re still going to be closer (to the guys ahead of you). Like Pato O’Ward in Indy (on the road course) had an awful weekend and finished in the back in both races (fourth and seventh), but I’m only at a (six point) lead. It’s tough to get ahead, so you want to minimize mistakes. It’s tough to make a gap, but it’s also tough to fall behind.”

As such, Herta is most certainly focused on bringing home an Indy Lights crown in 2018, which would propel him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, but he isn’t putting undue pressure on himself to force it to happen.

“In the second year, you have to get it done, and it’s tough to move up to IndyCars without that $1 million scholarship. So yeah, it’s important, but there’s no need to put more pressure on myself for how it is. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down, and if we can replicate what happened in May more and more, we should be in IndyCar next year,” he detailed.

And a potential move to IndyCar is certainly on the minds of Herta and Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, even if the Indy Lights title ends up in the hands of someone else.

“We are thinking about it for sure, and we have some sponsors already committed on this year that I think we could bring up into IndyCar,” Herta revealed. “But, if we win the Indy Lights championship, we’re going to race (IndyCar), whether it’s the four races that we’re given or whatever it may be.”

Herta will look to improve upon his results from last year at Road America, when he finished 12th in Race 1 and third in Race 2.

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