Kevin Ward Jr.'s father and fellow racers want him remembered as a talented and aggressive driver who had a bright future in the sport rather than as a victim in an accident involving NASCSAR champion Tony Stewart that sparked controversy among racing fans and recriminations from Ward's family.
Funeral services for the 20-year-old were set for 11 a.m. ET Thursday at South Lewis Senior High School in Turin, 89 kilometres (55 miles) northeast of Syracuse, N.Y. Ward, a 2012 graduate of the school, lived in nearby Port Leyden.
Ward was killed Saturday night 140 miles away at a dirt track in Canandaigua, where NASCAR champion Stewart was racing while he was in the area for a Sprint Cup event at Watkins Glen the next day. After a bump from Stewart sent Ward's winged car spinning into the wall, the young driver climbed out and stalked onto the track in his black firesuit, gesturing angrily. Stewart's No. 14 car seemed to fishtail, and Ward was thrown through the air as fans watched in horror.
The accident touched off angry debates as video of the crash circulated online, with fans questioning whether Stewart, known for his hot temper, tried to send his own message by buzzing Ward, or whether Ward recklessly took his life into his hands by stepping onto a dark track clad in black.
Kevin Ward Sr., who was at the track with his wife Pamela when their son was killed, told The Syracuse Post-Standard this week that Stewart was the best driver on the track that night, and there was no reason for him to hit the young driver after other cars avoided him.
"The one person that knows what happened that night is possibly facing 10 years in prison," Ward said. "Is he going to say what he done?"
No charges have been filed, but Ontario County Sheriff's deputies are still investigating.
Ward, who grew up in a racing family and started racing go-carts at age 4, had moved on to sprint cars and was Empire Super Sprint racing rookie of the year in 2012. He was one of a small, tight group of drivers who traveled to various races around New York state, parts of Canada and Pennsylvania.
Racing and working on cars in his father's shop, Westward Painting Co. of Lyons Falls, were his "double love," Ward's father told the Post-Standard.
"His goal was the race in the World of Outlaws," the top level for sprint cars, Ward said.