OYSTER BED - With less than two laps to go, a night of racing turned into tragedy as New Brunswick stock car driver Robert Michael Stevens, 30, died following a crash at Oyster Bed Speedway.
The Atlantic racing community is in mourning after Stevens, a resident of Riverview, N.B., was pronounced dead upon arriving at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in nearby Charlottetown after Saturday night's wreck.
RCMP, firefighters and paramedics responded to the collision, which occurred during the 98th lap of the 100-lap finale. The races were part of a sanctioned event in the Maritime Pro Stock Tour.
RCMP said they received the call at 11:23 p.m.
During Saturday's finale, a caution flag was waved with a lap and a half to go.
With two laps left following the restart, drivers took to the first set of corners and went through the backstretch.
Jeremy MacDonald, of Oyster Bed Speedway, said a few drivers in the middle of the pack got tangled up in a wreck on the third turn.
"Unfortunately Mike . . . he was trying to avoid the wreck," said MacDonald.
Stevens tried to turn his #4 car up and to the outside.
However, the vehicle went up the wall and onto its side before flipping onto its roof.
"It wasn't really a hard impact," said MacDonald.
Stevens had also been responding over radio and a red flag was waved for drivers to stop as officials began to get to the scene.
Stevens was uninjured and responding when emergency crews first arrived to his side.
The announcer also told the crowd Stevens was alright and responding.
That's when things deteriorated.
RCMP Sgt. Leanne Butler said while Stevens wasn't injured in the actual crash, sometime after flipping over he had released the safety harness while upside down.
"His airway closed off," said Butler, adding that the RCMP investigation into the collision has ended. "This one was clearly an accident. All safety measures were followed at the raceway."
MacDonald said it is unclear why Stevens would have released the harness.
He said one of the few exceptions where a driver would try to exit the vehicle on their own would be in the case of a fire.
Why Stevens did, MacDonald and the racetrack's owners aren't sure.
"We can't really say why. We don't know," said MacDonald.
MacDonald said the speedway was sending its sympathies and prayers to Steven's family as well as the pro stock community at large.
"He had a very big heart, he was very well liked and always had a smile," said MacDonald. "It (the racing community) is one big family."
MacDonald said several other factors may have also played a part, including the position of the car and the fact that several other cars had to be cleared away for emergency workers to get Stevens out.
One thing that's certain is the ache within the racing community following Stevens' death.
Following the collision, concern began to circulate on Facebook and social media of whether Stevens was safe.
Those messages turned to condolences, as individuals found out the tragic result.
"In any sport, going for a win means you're willing to go longer, work harder and give more than anyone else. Mike Stevens gave everything last night in a sport he obviously loved," wrote one individual on the Oyster Bed Speedway Facebook page.
"Keep your heads up because he's racing in heaven now," wrote another.