PORT LEYDEN, N.Y. -- Saturday was race night, which meant the far left garage bay and driveway at Westward Painting Co. Inc. on Laura Street in Lyons Falls should have been bustling on Sunday afternoon.
Instead, the sound of silence was deafening.
The garage bay was empty, the driveway deserted. The battered No. 13 Sprint car of Kevin Ward Jr. was still in Canandaigua, though his black Dodge Ram pickup was parked off to the side.
They would always be out here the day after a race, said Lynn Hardy, who lives right across Laura Street from the garage. They would have the tires off and they'd be doing their maintenance and Kevin would start the car and rev the engine.
This is quiet. This is not right.
Ward was killed Saturday night when he was struck by Tony Stewart's car at Canandaigua Motorsports Park, where both were racing 360 sprint cars in the Empire Super Sprints. Chuck Miller, the race director and president for the ESS circuit, said it was the fifth or sixth time that Stewart had raced on the circuit over the past four years. Ward had been spun by Stewart and approached the three-time Sprint Cup champion's car under caution when he was hit.
On Sunday, Ward was remembered by his neighbors and sprint car series officials as a racer with prodigious talent and no acrimonious past with Stewart.
There's no history with these two drivers, Miller said. That's the competitive nature of the game and the drivers around it.
Miller said Ward won the ESS rookie of the year award as a 16-year-old in 2010, finishing seventh in the points standings. He had won four times since then, and his family was involved with sponsoring awards for the ESS, which races at 18 tracks across the northeast and in Montreal, and hosting indoor go-kart races.
Kevin was a prolific winner in go-karts at all levels, Miller said. He showed a lot of promise and talent. ... On the track, you couldn't tell him apart from a veteran. He had that kind of talent.
Word of Ward's death spread quickly.
When I got up this morning I had a text message that Kevin died, said Justin Marmon, 21, who was two years ahead of Kevin Ward Jr. at South Lewis High School in nearby Turin.
Sue Sampson saw the news when she browsed the internet around 6 a.m. I said, 'Oh, my God, this is the kid up the road.'
Here, in these tiny towns at the southern end of New York's Adirondack Region, there are no strangers.
Everybody feels awful bad, said Don Gydesen of neighboring Lyons Falls. Everybody around here knows Kevin.
They know his father, too. Kevin Sr. owns Westward Painting. He sponsored the truck series not long ago at Adirondack Speedway. The story told by several townsfolk was that when the town of Lyons Falls needed the railings of the Black River bridge painted, Kevin Sr. just did it. For free.
Kevin was like that, Randy Mooney said.At the Ward home just off Kelpytown Road, family and friends gathered to mourn. They requested privacy as car after car, truck after truck, with townsfolk stopped by to offer condolences.
The Wards issued a statement that read: The family appreciates all the prayers and support and would like time to grieve at this point.
Others in town grieved with them.
The 20-year-old started driving go-karts on a track in the backyard of the Ward home. You're thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, he's too young for this,' said Hardy, Kevin's aunt through a previous marriage to Randy Ward. And then he grew up.
This is horrible just horrible.
Tammy and Bruce Branagan moved to Port Leyden five years ago. They soon met Ward, who lived perhaps a quarter-mile away.
He asked if he could go through here on his four-wheeler, Bruce Branagan said. I said sure, just make sure you wear a helmet. He always had to have the loudest one.
Kevin Oklobzija also writes for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.