SAN DIEGO - A local racing enthusiast who has known NASCAR driver Tony Stewart for years is still in disbelief about the accident that happened Saturday in upstate New York.
"It's just sad … it's tragic," said Dale Durbin.
Sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr., 20, was struck and killed by Stewart's car after Ward climbed from his car and walked on the darkened dirt track trying to confront Stewart during a race at the Canandaigua Motorsports Park.
Durbin has known Stewart since he was just an up-and-coming racer in the go kart nationals, when Stewart approached him for insight into the sport.
"He was just a kid coming up and needed some help, and you could tell he had talent then," said Durbin.
He has maintained that relationship with Stewart, watching him gain popularity and win races. He speaks with Stewart a few times a year.
Durbin met with 10News on Sunday to talk about Saturday's tragedy.
"I think that he put a lot of the blame on Tony for his crash, but I am not so sure it was all Tony's fault," he said.
Durbin tells 10News that Stewart's participation in Saturday's winged sprint car race was just for fun – it is a passion of his – but he was not in it for the money. The purse is less than $2,000.
He says while it is a sad day for racing fans, it was unfortunate that Ward walked across the track.
"Where he hit the guy was on the yellow," said Durbin. "They were not idling but going at a reduced speed on the track. Maybe he didn't see him because of how dark it is and the guy had a black helmet a black suit, and when he did see him he looked like he tried to get away from him."
Durbin knows Stewart is regarded as a hot-tempered driver at times.
"Tony's been known to get out of his car and throw his helmet, but you don't charge towards a car when they are moving at even 30 or 40 miles an hour because bad things happen."
He added that Stewart is a compassionate person, too.
"There are people who like Tony," said Durbin. "There's people who don't like Tony. but Tony is a pretty passionate guy. He does a lot for injured racers, charities and he doesn't publicize it, but he has spent a lot of his own money donating it to youth camps and good causes."
As of right now, no charges are pending against Stewart in the collision that killed Ward. Authorities say he is cooperating with investigators.