CANANDAIGUA, NEW YORK – Witnesses say NASCAR star Tony Stewart struck another driver, Kevin Ward Jr., at a New York dirt track Saturday, a year after he was involved in another crash that left a young woman dead.
Authorities say they are investigating the crash at Canandaigua Motorsports Park but gave no details early Sunday. A spokeswoman for Thompson Health said the hospital was treating one patient involved in the crash at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, but would not identify the patient or give a condition or injury details.
Michael Messerly, a fan who witnessed the crash, said it appeared Stewart — racing there on the eve of a race at Watkins Glen — hit Ward who was walking on the dimly lit track after they had collided on the previous lap.
He said Stewart struck Ward, who was wearing a dark racing suit, as he tried to “speed past” him.
“I didn’t see (the other driver) anymore,” he said. “It just seemed like he was suddenly gone.”
Messerly said the crash appeared to be the result of “a number of bad decisions” and not “any intent on Tony Stewart’s part.”
“Auto racing is a dangerous sport,” he said. “I think it was just an unfortunate set of circumstances that created a tragic situation.”
The track, located about 50 km southeast of Rochester, canceled the remainder of the race within five minutes and later posted a message on its Facebook page encouraging fans to “pray for the entire racing community of fans, drivers, and families.”
It said a statement on the crash would come later Sunday.
Stewart was involved in a July 2013 accident at Canandaigua Motorsports Park that seriously injured a 19-year-old driver. He later took responsibility for his car making contact with another and triggering the 15-car accident that left Alysha Ruggles with a compression fracture in her back.
On Saturday, ambulances, fire trucks and police arrived within minutes of the crash, Messerly said. Fans filed out in stunned silence, he said.
The Ontario County Sheriff’s Department says its officers were at the track investigating into the early morning Sunday.
In a statement released Sunday morning, a representative for Stewart says, “our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.” The statement says Stewart’s team is still trying to sort through the details of the accident.
Stewart, 42, only returned to sprint track racing last month, almost a year after breaking his leg in a crash at an Iowa track. The accident cost him the second half of the NASCAR season, and he didn’t return to racing in any form until February when preparation for NASCAR’s season-opening Daytona 500 began.
He refused to stop his extracurricular racing despite the injury and was scheduled to race Sunday.
Stewart was a spectator at the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa on Tuesday, the one-year anniversary of the accident, and posted on his Twitter account: “Thank you to everyone that worked so hard to get me back to where I’m at today. It’s your life, live it!”
Roughly three hours after the accident in New York, Donny Schatz, a sprint car driver for Tony Stewart Racing, won the prestigious Knoxville Nationals in Iowa for an eighth time. Stewart had spent much of the earlier part of the week trackside in Iowa watching his drivers compete.
“I was just told there was an incident involving Tony. I don’t know to what extent or what’s happening,” Schatz said.
Stewart, a three-time NASCAR champion, is co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing. The four-team Sprint Cup organization that fields cars for Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick. He’s struggled a bit this year since returning from his injury, and heads into Sunday’s race winless on the season and ranked 19th in the standings.
Stewart was scheduled to start 13th on Sunday at Watkins Glen International in south central New York state. He has just five races remaining to either score a win or move inside the top 16 in points to grab a valuable spot in NASCAR’s championship race.