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Kevin Ward Jr. eulogized as always a racer

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TURIN — Kevin A. Ward Jr. was eulogized Thursday as a fearless small-town boy with racing in his blood, as family members and friends held the sprint car driver’s funeral in the packed auditorium where he graduated from high school in 2012.

“I met my best friend at the age of five on the racetrack,” a choked-up Dylan M. Swiernik said. “From the age of five I looked up to him as he showed me fast ways around the track.”

Mr. Ward, 20, son of Pamela and Kevin Ward Sr. of Port Leyden, died Saturday when he was struck by NASCAR driver Tony Stewart’s car during a race at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. Mr. Ward had climbed out of his crashed car after a collision with Stewart’s car during the previous lap, apparently to confront him as he passed, and was hit on the dirt track.

For Mr. Ward’s funeral at South Lewis High School, white flowers spelling out his race car number, 13, were arranged against a backdrop of orange flowers, and crossed race flags were stitched into the lining of his casket. As mourners wore orange or black in his memory, speakers described how he always was a racer.

Mr. Swiernik recounted how the two had raced for 15 years, Mr. Ward in a 270 micro and later a 305 sprint, and Mr. Swiernik in a 600. He spoke of Mr. Ward’s accomplishments on the track, taking Empire Super Sports Rookie of the Year in 2010 and winning the inaugural Empire Super Sprints asphalt race at Evans Mills Speedway.

“We were just two small-town boys trying to make it in a big world, praying we both someday would make it to the World of Outlaws,” Mr. Swiernik said. “Junior was fearless.”

Mr. Ward’s longtime goal had been to race at World of Outlaws, a national touring series for sprint cars and model stock cars.

“None of us understand why you were taken at such a young age with the large amount of potential you had, and I definitely don’t think it’s fair,” said Mr. Ward’s elder sister, Christi Cavanaugh, joined by her sisters, Katelyn Ward and Kayla Herring. “Your dream was to race in the World of Outlaw series, and I know you’re doing that as we speak.”

At the time arrangements were being made, Mr. Ward’s aunt Sue Schneider said the funeral would be an occasion to celebrate his life. What a life it was, according to stories that made his mourners both laugh and weep.

Mrs. Herring fondly recalled the way he was with her husband, DJ.

“Some of my favorite memories are of the two of you making snowboarding videos in the backyard. Still have one where DJ starts out, ‘Hey, y’all, don’t try this ... at home,’ and you’re in the background shaking your head, saying, ‘No, don’t do it,’” she said.

Mrs. Cavanaugh remembered how her brother would come out of his room smelling horrible from his “pimp juice.” As a final touch, she sprayed Mr. Ward with it in his casket.

“Remember, Kevin, this is not the end, and we will all be together again someday, but when that day comes, you better watch out. You will be receiving the biggest hug and the largest amount of love we each have to offer,” Mrs. Herring said.

Mr. Ward was buried in Port Leyden Cemetery. Following the service, community members were invited back to the family home.

Mr. Ward Sr. owns and operates Westward Painting Co. Inc., Lyons Falls, where his son had worked. Westward Painting is a sponsor of the truck class at Adirondack International Speedway, New Bremen, which the Ward family had long supported. Car decals with the number 13 surrounded by wings are expected to be on sale during Sunday’s race for $5. A portion of the proceeds will go to the Ward family. A moment of silence is expected to be held.

“The trucks class may do something, as Westward is the class sponsor, but nothing has officially been worked out,” track announcer Keith Zehr said.

Evans Mills Speedway announced that its Lucas Oil Empire Super Sprints Asphalt Assault — first started in June 2013 and won by Mr. Ward — will be renamed the Kevin Ward Memorial.

Empire Super Sprints will be racing at Brewerton Speedway today in Mr. Ward’s honor. Attendees are asked to wear orange.

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