Danny Jennings and Joe Wood Jr. have both raced against Tony Stewart. Both city-area sprint car drivers say the superstar is a clean racer and would not do anything on purpose to mar the sport — much less kill someone.
Stewart is in the news, and it’s for nothing he did on a NASCAR track. On Saturday night, while competing in a dirt sprint car race in Canandaigua, N.Y., the open-wheeler Stewart was piloting hit Kevin Ward Jr.
The 20-year-old Ward was flung several feet forward and suffered fatal injuries, just moments after he exited his disabled sprinter to confront Stewart on the track. Ward was angry with Stewart after the two raced hard side-by-side through the first and second turns at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Ward’s car came in contact with the retaining wall and nearly flipped.
“You never know what another driver is going to do when they get out of their car,” said Jennings, a six-time champion at State Fair Speedway. “I’ve been mad before, but if you’ve got something to settle with another driver, you wait until after the race and do it in the pits. You don’t do it on the race track like that.”
Jennings and Wood saw video of the accident, which has been watched by millions on YouTube. They agreed that Stewart did not purposely run Ward’s car into the retaining wall.
“It was just hard racing,” Jennings said.
Wood said: “It was a pretty clean slide through the turns. The guy (Ward) didn’t compensate. He could’ve let off the gas and slid underneath Stewart. But he didn’t do that.”
Wood, a two-time champion on the American Sprint Car Series Sooner Region circuit, said it can be hard to control emotions when a driver thinks he has been wronged by another racer. Driving a sprint car takes adrenaline to another level.
“It’s easy to get hot-headed and ruffle feathers,” Wood said. “I’ve grown up around it and you learn ...you just have to try and use common sense, but it can be hard.”
Jennings said a lot of drivers will get out of their car during a caution to check on damage and maybe point a finger at another racer.
“When you see that kid (Ward) get out of the car and see how hot-headed he was, that should be a red flag there,” Jennings said. “I just know Tony Stewart is one of the cleanest race car drivers out there. He wouldn’t do anything like that on purpose. He does too much for racing.
“But any way you look at this, there is nothing good to come out of it. Someone lost their life.”