PORT LEYDEN, N.Y. — Kevin Ward Jr. was crafting a reputation as a wheelman, the kind of driver who could race vehicles on any track without fear.
He would sit up on his seat, floor it and zip through a maze of cars straight toward the front of the pack.
For points. For fun. Often for little money.
"He would go to tracks that a lot of other drivers wouldn't go to," Chuck Miller, race director and president for the Empire Super Sprints circuit, said Monday. "If we had co-sanctioned races with other organizations where we really weren't giving points or anything, but it was a deal where you wanted to see how you stacked up against the other competition, the Wards were willing to go and do that and see where they were at."
Ward, 20, was killed Saturday night about 140 miles away in a sprint car at a clay track in Canandaigua, N.Y. NASCAR champion Tony Stewart was the big name in the Empire Super Sprint series field, while he was in the area for a Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen the next day.
Ward and Stewart tangled, and Ward's car hit the wall. Ward got out of his car, walked on the track, apparently to confront Stewart, and was struck when Stewart's car seemed to fishtail.
On Monday, several cars were parked in front of the Ward home in Port Leyden. Helen McHale has lived across the street for 30 years and remembers hearing the noise when Ward raced go-carts. Kevin Ward Sr. runs a successful painting business.
"His dad goes to every race," she said. "He's a good kid, polite, big smile, and they're a good family."
Now that family is dealing with Ward's loss, as the police investigation continued.
Ward died of blunt force trauma, the autopsy showed, Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff Philip Povero said Monday. Povero said authorities questioned Stewart, 43, on Saturday and again Sunday in Watkins Glen. "At this time, there are no facts that exist that support any criminal behavior or conduct, or that any probable cause of a criminal act, in this investigation," he said.
Povero said Monday that there were no plans "at this time" to talk to him again and that there was no timetable to complete the investigation.
Meanwhile Stewart, who withdrew from Sunday's Sprint Cup race, also pulled out of a scheduled sprint car appearance this Saturday in Plymouth, Ind., his home state. Mike Arning, a spokesman for the Stewart-Haas NASCAR team, which Stewart co-owns, said Stewart has not yet decided if he will drive in this weekend's Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.
"I don't want Kevin Ward to be remembered as a victim in a Tony Stewart accident," said Cory Sparks, Ward's friend and sprint car rival who was also in Saturday's race. "He definitely had a future in this sport. He was a very aggressive driver. He was one hell of wheelman."