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’d sit up on his seat, floor it, and zip his way 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, the 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 at a clay track in Canandaigua. NASCAR champion Tony Stewart was the big name in the field, racing with the young guys while he was in the area for a Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen the next day.
Ward and Stewart tangled, and Ward hit the wall. Ward walked on the track apparently to confront Stewart, and was struck when Stewart’s vehicle seemed to fishtail.
Stewart and Ward shared a love of racing sprint cars: high-powered, winged cars built for running on short oval or circular dirt and paved tracks. Drivers have to hit the gas to turn, not necessarily use the wheel.
After the crash, Ward was standing to the right of Stewart’s No. 14 car on the dimly lit track. According to video and witness accounts, Ward was struck by the right rear tire and hurtled through the air.
Authorities questioned Stewart, 43, once on Saturday night and went to Watkins Glen to talk to him again Sunday. Ontario County Sheriff Philip Povero said that investigators don’t have any evidence at this point to support criminal intent. Povero said Monday there were no plans ‘‘at this time’’ to talk to Stewart again.
Stewart hasn’t announced whether he’ll drive in this weekend’s NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway, but his short track ‘‘hobby’’ is on hold. He won’t appear Saturday in a race in Warsaw, Ind.
‘‘It is still an emotional time for all involved, Tony included. He is grieving, and grief doesn’t have a timetable,’’ said Stewart-Haas Racing spokesman Mike Arning on Monday.
Canandaigua Speedway promoter Jeremie Corcoran said the track has canceled Wednesday’s event to give ‘‘my family, staff, fans, and racing teams time to grieve.’’
Memorial services will be held Wednesday at the Trainor Funeral Home in Boonville, N.Y. The funeral is Thursday.