Kevin Ward Jr.’s young life was consumed by racing.
Ward, 20, who was killed Saturday night when the sprint car of NASCAR driver Tony Stewart struck him on a dirt track in upstate New York, was one of the top young drivers on the Empire Super Sprint Series.
“He was a good kid, fun to be around,” Chuck Miller, the series’ race director, told the Observer on Sunday. “We had a group of young guys who came on board here at the same time, and he was right in there with them. He was super competitive with all of them and got along really well.
“He was a real tough racer. He wasn’t afraid to go fast and to put his car to the front.”
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Miller said Ward had the potential to be a star in the world of racing, wherever it might have taken him.
“Our series can either be a career for some drivers or a stepping stone to something bigger for others,” said Miller. “Kevin had enough talent that this was probably a stepping stone for him. He was really talented and looked like a winner straight from the get-go.”
According to Ward’s website, he began racing go-karts at the age of 4 near his hometown of Port Leyden, N.Y. He finished second in his first race and won six track championships and about 250 races by the time he was 12.
Ward moved up to the Empire series and its larger 360 sprint cars in 2010, when he was the circuit’s rookie of the year. He won for the first time in 2011, then won again in 2012 before winning twice in 2013.
Ward’s family was heavily involved in his racing career. The family business, Westward Painting Co., sponsors racing events in New York state.
“His dad was right there with him every time,” said Katie Liendecker, mayor of Lyons Falls, N.Y., a village just a few miles from Port Leyden and where the paint company is located. “We’ve all always been proud of Kevin Jr.’s achievements. The whole community is totally grief stricken over this unfortunate thing that happened. I cannot imagine what his family is going through.”
Although Ward hadn’t won this season, he was seventh in the points standings, with two top-five finishes and four top-10s. According to a story on his website, Ward was frustrated after consecutive races in which he had motor issues and an accident.
“I don’t know what we have to do to shake off this bad luck,” Ward said. “We have had fast cars, but we just have not had the results to go with it.”