Racing tragedy robs everyone of a bright future

A race car driver died too young Saturday.

Kevin Ward Jr. was killed on a sprint car track in New York after he was hit by a passing sprint car driven by NASCAR's Tony Stewart. Speculation and confusion surround the crash, and everyone wants answers.

Why was Stewart racing at all? Well, he often drove sprint cars on days he was off from NASCAR.

Why was Ward walking on the track? Most likely he wanted to confront Stewart. He wasn't the first driver to exit his car to show frustration toward a fellow competitor. In 2012, Stewart threw his helmet at Matt Kenseth's car as he left pit road.

But most such incidents don't end in a fatality.

Should Stewart have competed in the NASCAR race Sunday at Watkins Glen? All we know is he opted not to race.

We all want to speculate; the need for closure is that strong. But conjecture won't change what happened.

Let's instead remember the victim. Kevin Ward Jr. was more than the man who was hit by a NASCAR driver, even if that is the unfortunate truth of how his name became a headline. He had a family, friends and dreams just like the rest of us. At 20 years old, his life was just beginning.

He had "racing in his blood," according to his website. He started racing go-karts at age 4. Ward was successful right away. In eight years of go-kart racing, he won six track championships and boasted 250 feature wins.

Ward continued his success in Micro Sprint races and later sprint cars. Ward's first sprint car feature victory came in 2011 in his second season in that series.

Maybe Ward's racing career would have ended soon. Maybe he would have put away his driving suit to attend college, find a full-time job or start a family. Or maybe he would have risen through the ranks and raced in the Sprint Cup series one day, and fans would have known him as a part of the next generation of driving superstars.

We'll never know. Ward's life was taken before we could find out.

Emily Brown is a RedEye intern. @emily_brown88

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