Thursday, July 5, 2018

"2-Time Indy 500 Winner" Rodger Ward Dies - July 5, 2004

January 10, 1921 - July 5, 2004
Rodger Ward
Born in Beloit, Kansas, USA.
Ward won the 1959 and 1962 Indianapolis 500. He also was the 1959 and 1962 USAC Championship Car champion.

By 1930, the family had moved to California. Ward's father owned an auto wrecking business in Los Angeles. Roger was 14 years old when he built a Ford hot rod. He was a P-38 Lightning fighter pilot in World War II. He enjoyed flying so much he thought of making it his career. He began to fly B-17 Flying Fortress and was so good he was retained as an instructor. After the war he was stationed in Wichita Falls, Texas when a quarter mile dirt track was built.

He began racing midget cars in 1946 after he was discharged from the Army. He finished poorly. His skills improved in 1947 and by 1948 he won the San Diego Grand Prix. He raced in an Offenhauser in 1949 and won several races.

Ward shocked the midget car racing world when he broke Offenhauser motor's long winning streak by using Vic Edelbrock's Ford 60 "shaker" motor at Gilmore Stadium on August 10, 1950. The motor was one of the first to feature nitromethane for fuel. Ward and Edelbrock went to the Orange Show Stadium the following night and won again. Ward used his midget car in 1959 to beat the top expensive and exotic sports cars in a Formula Libre race at Lime Rock Park. Midget cars were normally considered competitive for oval tracks only before that time. That same year, Ward entered the United States Grand Prix for Formula One cars with the midget car, under the false belief that it was much quicker through the turns, a fact he found not true at the beginning of practice. He eventually retired from the race after twenty laps with a mechanical failure.

He won the 1951 AAA Stock Car championship. The championship gave him an opportunity for a rookie test at the 1951 Indianapolis 500. He passed the test and qualified for the race. He finished 34 laps before his car suffered a broken oil line. He finished 130 laps in the 1952 Indianapolis 500 before the oil pressure failed. His 1953 Indianapolis 500 ended after 170 laps, and his 1954 Indianapolis 500 ended after his car stalled on the backstretch. He completed all of the laps for the first time in 1956, finishing eighth.

In 1959 he joined the Leader Card Racers team with owner Bob Wilke and mechanic A. J. Watson; forming what was known as the "3 W's". Ward won his first Indianapolis 500. He won the AAA National Championship with victories at Milwaukee, DuQuoin and the Indy Fairgrounds. His 1959 season ended by competing in the only United States Grand Prix held at Sebring Raceway.

Ward battled Jim Rathmann for the lead in the 1960 Indianapolis 500. In one of the epic duels in Indy 500 history, Ward and Rathmann exchanged the lead 14 times before Ward slowed on lap 197 to nurse his frayed right front tire to the finish. Rathmann, also struggling with worn-out tires after such a furious pace, took the lead on lap 197 and the two drivers limped home in what is still regarded as one of the greatest duels for the win in Indianapolis 500 history.

Ward took the lead at the 1962 Indianapolis 500 at lap 126 and led the rest of the race. He won the season championship that year, which had changed to USAC sanction in the interim.

He had difficulties getting comfortable in the car he drove at Indianapolis in 1965, failing to qualify by the slimmest of margins. His professional pride would not let him end his career in such an ignominious manner, and he returned for a final time in 1966, finishing fifteenth. At the victory banquet that evening, Ward tearfully addressed the group. "I always said I would quit racing when it stopped being fun," he said, then paused as he wiped away tears. "Today it wasn't fun anymore." He had 26 victories in his 150 starts between 1950 and 1964, and he finished in the top ten in more than half of his starts.

Ward retired to be a commentator for ABC's Wide World of Sports for NASCAR and Indycars from 1965 to 1970. From 1980-1985, he served as a driver expert for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network, before retiring in Tustin, California.

In later years, he served as public relations director for the new Ontario Motor Speedway, and later managed the Circus Circus unlimited hydroplane team.

In 1992, he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. He was inducted into both the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1995. Ward is a member of the Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Indianapolis. He was inducted in the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2003.

Rodger Ward died in Anaheim, California on July 5, 2004, at the age of 83.

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1 comment:

  1. He also started the multi car crash in 1955 that took the life of 2 time defending Indy winner Bill Vukovich 57 laps in to the 500 with a 17 sec. lead on his way to what most likely been 3 straight Indy 500s