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

2 Comments

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

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
Leave a comment

You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski