COLUMBUS, Ind. (WISH) – Following Tony Stewart’s involvement in a sprint car fatal crash, 24-Hour News 8 spoke to residents in Stewart’s hometown of Columbus on Sunday.
On Saturday night, Stewart hit and killed sprint car driver Kevin Ward, Jr., who had climbed from his car and was on the darkened dirt track trying to confront Stewart during a race in upstate New York.
Stewart, a three-time champion, grew up in Columbus. One man who has raced against him at the Bartholomew County Fair talked about the dangers of racing and what he believes happened during Saturday night’s incident.
“Don’t think he saw him until the last second. God rest his soul. We’re all just heartbroken over the whole thing, we would be regardless of who was the other person involved,” driver Matt Arrington said.
As an 8-year-old go-kart racer, Stewart got his first sponsorship from Bob Franke, the owner of a local Dairy Queen. The family still keeps in close contact with Stewart and news of last night’s accident left them at at a loss of words.
Stewart, who adorns their walls, is now coming under fire after his latest trip around the track.
“It’s such a tragedy and there’s a lot of people out there that are trying to hang him for it, you know,” Arrington said.
Arrington said it’s possible that when Stewart revved his engine near Ward, it was in order to change gears and feels Stewart tried to swerve away.
“There’s so many things going on in those race cars that a lot of people don’t realize,” he said. “Motor sports are dangerous but when you get out of that car, your putting yourself at a big risk.”
Arrington said he was involved in a race here where he wrecked within the last few laps, but chose to stay in his car. However, he admits there have been times where he’s gotten out and thrown his hands up at the driver who hit him.
He says emotions run high in racing, but getting out of a car and walking onto the track is something he says the racing community needs to reconsider, anything that can prevent tragedies like Saturday night’s from happening again.
Stewart pulled out of the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen on Sunday. In a statement, Stewart said the crash has been “emotional” for all involved.
“There aren’t words to describe the sadness I feel about the accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr.,” he said.