COLUMBUS, Ind. - Tony Stewart fans were shocked and saddened this weekend after his fatal collision with fellow driver Kevin Ward, Jr., and fans from Stewart's Hoosier hometown were no exception.
In Columbus, reactions were mixed – many residents are diehard fans of their hometown hero; others said they've never liked Stewart because of his bad temper.
"I've never been a big fan of his," said Columbus native Matt Burr. "My first memory of him was getting in a fight out at the fairgrounds years ago when he raced Sprint Cup out there. So I've always known him as a hothead."
Another was more inclined to give Stewart the benefit of the doubt, saying the collision looked like an accident.
"It looked like an unfortunate choice by the other driver," said fellow Columbus native Tim Walton. "It's a very dangerous environment, very dark, very difficult to see. So at this point I would presume that Tony did his best to try to avoid [Ward] and it was an unfortunate accident."
Race fans also wonder whether the crash will end Stewart's hobby of racing on small tracks on the side of big-money NASCAR races. Stewart has long defended his participation in racing on tracks like the one where the crash happened, even as accidents and injury have put his day job in NASCAR at risk.
Saturday's crash came almost exactly a year after Stewart suffered a compound fracture to his right leg in a sprint car race in Iowa. The injury cost him the second half of the NASCAR season and sidelined him during NASCAR's important Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
Stewart only returned to sprint track racing last month.
In the Kevin Ward Jr. camp, family and friends remembered him Sunday as a young man with a bright future ahead of him.
"He was a young man, in his twenties. His life was ahead of him," said race announcer John Burr. He was an outstanding driver, but more important, he was an outstanding person. When we decided to come back with Adirondack this year, Kevin and the whole family were over here to try and help us get things going."
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