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updated: 8/14/2014 10:48 AM

Mourners gather for driver hit by Stewart's car

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  • The casket of race car driver Kevin Ward Jr., is taken from a hearse before being carried into South Lewis Central School before a funeral on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, in Turin, N.Y. Ward died after being struck by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart's car during a race last weekend at a dirt track in western New York.

      The casket of race car driver Kevin Ward Jr., is taken from a hearse before being carried into South Lewis Central School before a funeral on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, in Turin, N.Y. Ward died after being struck by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart's car during a race last weekend at a dirt track in western New York.
    Associated Press

  • Kayla Herring, sister of race car driver Kevin Ward Jr., wears a ribbon bearing his racing colors and number before his funeral at South Lewis Central School on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, in Turin, N.Y. Ward died after being struck by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart's car during a race last weekend at a dirt track in western New York.

      Kayla Herring, sister of race car driver Kevin Ward Jr., wears a ribbon bearing his racing colors and number before his funeral at South Lewis Central School on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, in Turin, N.Y. Ward died after being struck by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart's car during a race last weekend at a dirt track in western New York.
    Associated Press

 
By MARY ESCH
Associated Press

TURIN, N.Y. -- Mourners are streaming into the upstate New York high school where funeral services are being held for Kevin Ward Jr., the dirt-track racer killed by NASCAR champion Tony Stewart during a race last weekend.

Ward's casket, decorated with orange and white flowers, was carried into South Lewis Senior High School about an hour before services were to begin. Ward, a 2012 graduate, lived in nearby Port Leyden.

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His family followed the casket, some of them dressed in black and orange, the 20-year-old Ward's racing colors. Dozens of mourners began arriving soon afterward.

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 NASCAR champion Tony Stewart.

The accident sparked controversy among racing fans and brought recriminations from Ward's family.

Ward was killed Saturday night at a track 140 miles away in Canandaigua, where Stewart was racing a day before the Sprint Cup event at Watkins Glen. After a bump from Stewart sent Ward's winged car spinning into the wall, the young driver climbed out and walked 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 his parents and 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 stepped onto a dark track clad in black.

Kevin Ward Sr., who was at the track with his wife, Pamela, 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.

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