JULY 6, 2004
The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and a former Grand Prix driver Rodger Ward has died in Anaheim, California. He was 83 years of age and oldest surviving winner of the Indy 500, which he won in 1959 and 1962.
A Kansas native, Ward moved to California with his family as a child. His father opened a automobile breaking yard and at 14 Ward started taking part in illegal drag races in and around Los Angeles. He was 20 when the war broke out and joined the Air Force, becoming the pilot of Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighters. Later in the war he tried his hand as a bomber pilot with B-17s and after that spent a period as an instructor. While stationed in Texas after the war ended he went back to racing, this time competing in midgets on the dirt tracks. He returned to California after demobilization and by 1951 had become AAA's national stock car champion and had managed to get his first drive in the Indianapolis 500. In 1953 he began winning USAC Indycar races in a Kurtis-Offenhauser. In the same period he was involved in two freak accidents each of which killed another driver: the first which killed his friend midget racer Clay Smith and the second more famous accident that killed the great Bill Vukovich at Indianapolis in 1955. Although Ward was blamed for some the crash was actually caused by a broken axle. Both Ward and Vukovich rolled. Ward lived, Vukovich died. It took him a while to get over these accidents but in 1959 he teamed up with car builder AJ Watson, card company owner Bob Wilke to establish the Leader Card Team, which was sometimes known in the years that followed as Triple W. Ward won the Indianapolis 500 and the USAC title in 1959, was second to AJ Foyt in 1960, third in 1961 and then took his second title and second Indy 500 win in 1962. He was runner-up in the USAC title in 1963 and 1964 with the inevitable Foyt ahead on both occasions. He went on racing until 1966.
Along the way Ward took part in the 1959 United States Grand Prix at Sebring, at the wheel of a Kurtis Kraft sprint car. This was not a success as the car was massively off the pace. Ward tied F1 again at Watkins Glen in 1963 where he had an outing in a Lotus-BRM rented from Reg Parnell. He retired from the race with a gearbox failure.
|Print News Story|