NASCAR driver Tony Stewart said Monday that he never contemplated retirement after he struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. during an Aug. 9 sprint car race in upstate New York. The 43-year-old fielded questions from reporters at Stewart-Haas Racing headquarters for the first time since the fatal accident.
“I’ve had drivers that I’ve raced with every week and drivers that I haven’t raced with for months that have said, ‘Don’t let this keep you from doing what you love,’” Stewart said during the news conference, according to ESPN. “This is what I’ve done all my life. This is what I’ve done for 36 years. I wouldn’t change anything about it.”
"I love what I do. I love driving race cars. I think it might change, right now, as far as how much of it and what I do. There was never a thought in my head about stopping. That would take the life out of me."
Stewart acknowledged that his role in the 20-year-old Ward’s death has had a profound effect on his life. “I don’t know if it’ll ever be normal again,” he said. “Before the accident, a day would fly by me. Now a day seems like two-three days. Like the batteries are running low on the clock.”
Prosecutors in Canandaigua, New York, said Wednesday that a grand jury wouldn't press criminal charges against Stewart in connection with Ward’s death. A toxicology report found that Ward was under the influence of enough marijuana to “impair judgment” when Stewart ran him over during a dirt track race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
Asked what he would change about the past two months, Stewart said that he should never have raced at Canandaigua. “I’d have stayed at Watkins Glen that night," he said, referring to the location of that weekend's NASCAR race. "It wasn’t a big-paying race. I just wanted to go run my sprint car for a night. I do it to have fun. And it didn’t end up being fun that night.”
Stewart said that he would be willing to speak with Ward’s family if they wished to discuss the accident. “I think at this point, I want to be available to them if they want to talk about it,” he said. “I don’t need to talk to them for closure. I know what happened. I know it was an accident. But I’m available to them if they want to talk about it for closure.”
Ward’s family has been outspoken in their belief that Stewart, at worst, acted negligently on the track that fatal night. Bereft of a criminal case, the Wards are considering a civil suit against Stewart, the Washington Post notes.
“Why was the toxicology report even an issue?” Wendi Ward, the aunt of Kevin Ward Jr., said in an open letter published Sunday by USA Today. “Seems to me the wrong man was on trial. Tell me why Tony Stewart was not taken in for testing, why his car wasn't impounded. Tell me how a man the size of Kevin can make a sprint car turn to the right on impact. Tell me how a lap before (the incident) everything was fine, but the following lap was poor lighting. Tell me how a NASCAR star totally forgot what caution means.”
Stewart acknowledged during an Aug. 26 interview with the Associated Press that his days of racing sprint cars were likely over. “I would say it’s going to be a long time before you ever see me in a sprint car again, if ever. I don’t have any desire at this moment to get back in a car,” he said. “If I had the option to go right now to a race, I wouldn’t. I don’t even know when I’ll go to a sprint car race again to watch. I can promise you it’s going to be a long time before you ever see me back in one.”