An overflow crowd of more than 700 mourners filled the South Lewis High School auditorium in Turin, N.Y., Thursday morning to say goodbye to Kevin Ward Jr., who was killed in a tragic accident during a sprint car race last Saturday.
Many of the mourners were dressed in orange, black and white – three of Ward’s favorite colors and also part of the color scheme on his race car – to remember the 20-year-old, who graduated from the school in 2012, according to Syracuse.com.
A number of mourners also wore shirts adorned with the inscription, “In loving memory of … WARD 13 RACING.”
Ward lost his life after accidentally being run over by the sprint car of three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart during a sprint car dirt track race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.
At least one fellow driver who was in the same race has said Stewart did everything he could to avoid Ward, who exited his race car and came down the racetrack in an attempt to reach Stewart and express his displeasure for a wreck that occurred just moments before.
Officials of the Ontario County (N.Y.) sheriff’s office are continuing to investigate the incident. Sheriff Philip Povero has said no criminal charges are being considered against Stewart at this time.
According to Syracuse.com, more than four dozen floral bouquets adorned the auditorium’s stage, including one large arrangement that featured Ward’s racing number, No. 13.
The web site also said Ward’s casket had a “white liner embroidered with two black and white checkered flags.”
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle said Ward’s father, Kevin Ward Sr., honored his son by wearing “a Ward Racing shirt with a bright orange #13 on the right sleeve.”
Numerous testimonials were given about the younger Ward, including:
* “The reason for the orange and white is how bright the colors are. Even against black, orange and white does shine through.” – Ward’s older sister, Kayla Herring.
* “I’m the proud cousin of the amazing Budster (Kevin’s nickname).” – Ward’s cousin, Amanda Ward, who asked the audience to applaud her cousin, resulting in a lengthy standing ovation in his memory.
* “We were just two small town boys trying to make it in a big world, praying we would make it to the World of Outlaws.” – Ward’s best friend, Dylan Swiernik.
* “We love you and you will never be forgotten.” – Ward’s older sister, Kayla Herring.
There also was humor in celebrating Ward’s life.
Ward had three older sisters before he came along.
“You are the son our parents tried three times to have,” Herring said. “And what does that mean?”
All three sisters said in unison with a laugh, “Spoiled rotten,” eliciting a large round of laughter from the crowd as well.
Quoting scripture, the Rev. Kevin Westcott of the Finish Line Chaplain Ministries, who officiated at the ceremony, referenced the apostle Paul, who said in 1 Corinthians that to win a race, you must run to win.
“Run to win, that exemplifies Kevin’s attitude in a race car,” Westcott added. “How we run the race, and who we run it for, is really what’s important.
“Kevin ran every race with everything he had. Today I want to say, ‘Well done, Kevin.’ He finished well, he won his race.”
Westcott also asked mourners to not forget Ward.
“Don’t let this week be the final memories of Kevin,” he said.
As mourners left the school, numerous orange, white and black balloons were released into the air in Ward’s memory.
After the funeral, Ward was laid to rest in his hometown of Port Leyden, N.Y., a small town of about 700 in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains.
“If there wasn’t a dirt track in heaven before,” Kayla Herring said of her kid brother, “there is now.”
-- Jerry Bonkowski, MotorSportsTalk.com