- January 10, 1921
- July 05, 2004
- United States
- Not Active
Rodger Ward (1921-2004) was an American racing driver who was a two-time USAC National champion and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, achieving both triumphs in 1959 and 1962. He participated sixteen times at Indianapolis 500, scoring three more podiums besides two victories.
Besides competing at Indianapolis 500 race, which was a part of the Formula 1 World Championship between 1950 and 1960, Ward recorded two more F1 Grand Prix starts at the US Grand Prix in 1959 and 1963.
Starting to race after the World War II
Rodger M. Ward was born in January 1921 in Beloit, Kansas but his family moved to California in 1930. His father owned an auto wrecking business so young Rodger was working with cars at the early age. During the World War II, he served as a pilot in the US Air Force. He was discharged from a military service in 1946, staring his racing career in midget cars.
Year by year, he improved his skills, starting to win races regularly in 1948. In that time, Offenhauser engines were dominating so Ward shocked the world in August 1950 when he won few midget car races with Vic Edelbrock's Ford 60 engine powered by nitromethane fuel.
AAA National Championship debut in 1950, Indy 500 debut in 1951
Ward made his AAA National Championship in November 1950, driving the #63 Esmeralda-sponsored Kurtis-Offenhauser at Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix and finishing tenth. Ward won the 1951 AAA Stock Car Championship and that success secured him an opportunity for a rookie test at Indianapolis 500.
He managed to qualify for the race, driving the #48 Deck Manufacturing Bromme-Offenhauser. He stopped after 34 laps with broken oil pipe. Later in a season, he participated in six more AAA Championship races with two different cars, finishing best in the fifth place at Milwaukee Mile.
Maiden Champ Car victory in 1953
In 1952, Ward recorded seven starts in the AAA Champ Car Series, including his second attempt at Indianapolis 500. He was driving the #34 Federal Engineering KK4000-Offenhauser, stopping after 130 laps. His best result that season was the seventh place at Milwaukee Mile.
Ward scored his maiden Champ Car victory in June 1953 at Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, driving the #92 Kurtis-Offy for M.A. Walker. The second win followed immediately in the next race at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit. At 1953 Indianapolis 500, Ward recorded his third consecutive DNF. This time, he stopped after 177 laps.
Crashing out at 1953 Carrera Panamericana
Outside Champ Car, Ward participated at the famous Carrera Panamericana race in November 1953. He was driving the #69 Lincoln Capri with Miles Spickler as his co-driver. They didn't finish the race because of an accident.
The race was a part of the FIA World Sportscar Championship so world's greatest drivers participated in it. The winners were Juan Manuel Fangio and Gino Bronzoni in a Lancia D24 Pininfarina, ahead of two more Lancia crews.
1956 – finally completing all 200 laps at Indianapolis 500
In 1954, Ward was driving five different cars in ten Champ Car races, not scoring wins. At Indianapolis 500, he stopped after 172 laps in the #12 Dr. Sabourin Pawl-Offenhauser. In 1955, he participated in just six races with two different cars, again without wins. He crashed out at Indianapolis 500 in the #27 Aristo Blue Kuzma-Offy.
Ward finally completed all 200 laps at Indianapolis 500 in 1956, driving the #19 Filter Queen Kurtis-Offy for Ed Walsh. He finished in 8th place. Later in the season, he was racing in Roger Wolcott's #62 Lesovsky-Offy, finishing third at Milwaukee Mile and Indiana State Fairgrounds.
Five wins in two seasons (1957, 1958)
Ward was back on the victorious way in 1957, winning three USAC Champ Car races with Roger Wolcott's #8 Lesovsky-Offy. He was a race winner at Milwaukee, Springfield and Sacramento. At Indianapolis 500, he stopped after 27 laps.
He added two Champ Car wins to his account in 1958, still driving for Roger Wolcott and winning races at Milwaukee and Trenton in the #8 Lesovsky-Offy. Ward was also driving Wolcott's car at the Race of the Two Worlds (500 Miles of Monza or Monzapolis), finishing 15th.
1959 – winning the Indianapolis 500 and USAC Championship title
For the 1959 USAC season, Ward joined Bob Wilke's Leader Card Racers team, supported by engineer A.J. Watson. Driving the Watson-Offy, he scored two podiums in the first two races of the season and then triumphed at Indianapolis 500 in the #5 car, beating Jim Rathmann.
Later in the season, Ward added three more wins at Milwaukee, DuQuoin and Indy Fairgrounds to win the championship title, beating Tony Bettenhausen by almost thousand points.
Running a midget car at Formula One Grand Prix
Ward concluded his successful season with a participation at the US Grand Prix at Sebring, what was his first Formula 1 race outside Indy 500. He was driving the #1 Kurtis-Offy midget car, retiring after 20 laps with a broken clutch.
He made a sensation with that car a few months earlier in the USAC Formula Libre race at Lime Rock Park. A car was suitable for dirt tracks and ovals but he managed to take a victory against expensive and exotic sports cars.
1960 – second at Indy 500, second in the championship
In the 1960 USAC Championship, Ward was driving the #1 Watson-Offenhauser, finishing in the second place both in the championship and at Indianapolis 500. He fought against Jim Rathmann in one of the most epic duels at Indianapolis 500, exchanging lead 14 times.
In the rest of the season, Ward was a race winner at Trenton and Milwaukee, finishing as a vice-champion behind A.J. Foyt.
In 1960, Ward also participated in the last edition of Cuban Grand Prix, finishing 14th in a Ferrari 250 TR he was sharing with Dan Gurney. During 1960, Ward also took part in selected races of the USAC Road Racing Championship with different cars but without any success.
1961 – third at Indy 500, third in the championship
In 1961, driving the #2 Leader Card Watson-Offy for Bob Wilke, Ward was a race winner three times (Milwaukee, Syracuse, Sacramento) to finish third in the USAC Champ Car championship, behind A.J. Foyt and Eddie Sachs. The same three drivers took the first three places at Indianapolis 500.
In the 1961 USAC Road Racing Championship, Ward was driving Porsche 550 RS and Cooper Monaco T49 but without any success.
Champion and Indy 500 winner again in 1962
In 1962, driving the #3 Leader Card Watson-Offy, Ward repeated a success from 1959 by winning both the championship and Indianapolis 500. He won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after leading for 66 laps.
In the championship, he added three more wins (Trenton, Milwaukee, Syracuse) to take his second championship title, beating A.J. Foyt.
In that year's USAC Road Racing Championship, he was driving Chevrolet Corvette C1 at Sebring 12 Hours (DNF), Kurtis Kraft midget at Indianapolis and Chaparral 1 at Riverside.
1963 – five wins for the second place in the championship
In 1963, Ward scored most wins in all of his Champ Car seasons, winning five races, but it wasn't enough to take the title. He finished second in the points, losing a title to A.J. Foyt.
Ward was driving the #1 Kaiser Aluminum Watson-Offy for Bob Wilke, winning races at Milwaukee, Spring field, Indy Fairgrounds, Sacramento and Phoenix. At Indianapolis 500, he finished fourth.
NASCAR debut and one more Formula 1 attempt
The season 1963 was also marked by Ward's NASCAR debut and one more attempt at the Formula 1 Grand Prix. In February, he was driving the #36 Mercury for Bill Strope in the Qualifying race for Daytona 500. He didn't finish the race and didn't qualify for Daytona 500. In March, Ward recorded one more NASCAR Grand National start at Atlanta International Raceway, racing for 242 laps in the #16 Mercury before retiring.
In October 1963, Ward was driving the #18 Lotus 24-BRM for Reg Parnell Racing at US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. He stopped after 44 laps with a broken gearbox.
1964 – USAC vice-champion and second at Indy 500
In the 1964 USAC Champ Car season, Ward recorded seven top 5 results in the #2 car but he scored no wins. He finished second in the championship, behind A.J. Foyt. He was also second at Indianapolis 500, again behind A.J. Foyt.
In 1964, Ward made one more start in the NASCAR Grand National Series, driving the #26 Mercury for Bill Stroppe at Riverside International Raceway. He stopped after 24 laps with a broken transmission.
1966 – the last Champ Car win at Trenton Speedway
In 1965, Ward failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 for the first and only time in a career. He was driving the #2 Watson-Ford for Bob Wilke. Later in the season, he switched to John Mecom's #24 Lola-Ford but a complete season was a failure.
Ward refused to retired from racing with such disappointing results, so he returned in 1966. Driving the #24 Lola-Offy for John Mecom, he finished second at Phoenix and won a race at Trenton Speedway, what was his last Champ Car victory. In May, he ended his career with one more start at Indianapolis, finishing 15th in the #26 Lola-Offy.
Retiring from racing at the age 45
At the age 45, Ward retired from racing, saying that it wasn't fun anymore. Later he worked as TV and radio commentator for NASCAR and Indy Car races. He was inducted into several Hall of Fames (International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame, Auto Racing Hall of Fame in Indianapolis and West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame).