Rodger Ward

Full Name:
Rodger Morris Ward
Born:
10th January 1921
Beloit, Kansas
Died:
5th July 2004 (Aged 83)
Anaheim, California
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

If this party loving, hard charger had retired from the sport before 1959 this profile would have been one of a self-confident underachiever. However, that year proved to be the making of one of Indycar racing’s greatest stars – a double champion and twice winner of the Indianapolis 500.

Background and early Indycar career

Rodger Ward’s father was a mechanic who ran Ward’s Automotive in Huntington Beach to the south of Los Angeles. Ward grew up messing around with cars and watching racing at the local Legion Ascot Speedway. He served in the United States Air Corps during World War II when an instructor on the Lockheed P38 Lightning fighter aircraft.

Discharged in 1946, Ward returned to his peacetime passion and started racing in midgets with some promise. Tenth with a Kurtis KK2000-Offenhauser on his Indycar debut at Phoenix at the end of 1950, he completed a first season at that level and won the AAA Stock Car title in 1951.

Something of a car breaker early in his Indycar career, he retired from the Indianapolis 500 on his first five appearances. He lasted long enough to score breakthrough victories in 1953 – his M.A.Walker Kurtis-Offy winning back-to-back races on the dirt ovals of Springfield and Detroit.

He finally finished an Indy 500 (eighth) in 1956 and joined team owner Roger Wolcott later that year. The combination came good in 1957 and 1958 when Ward’s supercharged Lesovsky-Offy won five times.

Indy 500 winner and National Champion

With his previous wild reputation behind him, Ward joined A.J.Watson’s Leader Card Racers in 1959 and finished second at Daytona and Trenton at the start of the year. He qualified his Watson-Offy on the outside of row two at Indianapolis and took the lead on lap five after a storming start. He battled Jim Rathmann and poleman Johnny Thomson throughout the race to win by 23.27 seconds.

He clinched the 1959 championship as well after three further victories and made an unlikely appearance in that year’s United States Grand Prix driving a Kurtis-Offy midget. Ward had earlier beaten a field of road racers at Lime Rock but the small, upright car was totally unsuitable against Europe’s works teams. His entry provided local colour before its two-speed gearbox and clutch finally broke.

His new-found maturity was confirmed during his Indycar title defence when runner-up to A.J.Foyt in 1960. Third in the standings a year later, he was a contender at Indy as well. He battled Jim Rathmann for victory in 1960 but finished second after losing the lead with four laps to go when forced to slow by a badly worn front tyre.

Further Indycar success

Third in the 1961 Indy 500, he returned to winning ways in the following year’s race. He qualified second but was no match for Parnelli Jones on raceday. Jones had lapped the field at one stage but he lost his brakes and Ward was left to lead Len Sutton home in a Leader Card 1-2. He also won the National Championship for a second time that year to confirm his status as a star of American racing.

His 1962 season was ended by back injuries suffered in a fiery sports car accident at Riverside. Runner-up in the 1963 and 1964 Indycar standings, Ward also finished second at Indy that latter year. He started the United States GP for a second time in 1963 when retiring Reg Parnell’s Lotus 24-BRM at Watkins Glen. Ward left Leader Card mid 1965 but enjoyed little success in John Mecom’s Lola-Ford.

Now with Offenhauser-power, Ward started 1966 with second place at Phoenix and victory at Trenton. However, he only raced once more. He withdrew from the Indianapolis 500 with what was described as handling problems and immediately quit the sport because "it wasn’t fun anymore."

A true Indycar great, Ward later promoted races and remained a regular visitor to historic events and old timer reunions. He died in 2004 after a lengthy illness.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1966 USAC National Championship
Mecom Racing Enterprises
3 0 2 1
34% win rate
17th 540
1965 USAC National Championship
Mecom Racing Enterprises
Leader Card Racers
8 0 0 0
0% win rate
48th 30
1964 USAC National Championship
Leader Card Racers
12 2 4 0
0% win rate
2nd 2128
1963 F1 World Championship
Reg Parnell Racing
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1963 USAC National Championship
Leader Card Racers
11 3 7 5
46% win rate
2nd 2210
1962 USAC National Championship
Leader Card Racers
9 0 5 4
45% win rate
1st 2460
1961 USAC National Championship
Leader Card Racers
Dean Van Lines Racing Division
11 1 6 3
28% win rate
3rd 1680
1960 F1 World Championship
Leader Card Racers
1 0 1 0
0% win rate
12th 6
1960 USAC National Championship
Leader Card Racers
10 2 4 2
20% win rate
2nd 1390
1959 F1 World Championship
Leader Card Racers
2 0 1 1
50% win rate
10th 8
1959 USAC National Championship
Leader Card Racers
12 1 8 4
34% win rate
1st 2400
1958 F1 World Championship
Roger G Wolcott
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1958 USAC National Championship
Roger G Wolcott
John R Wills
12 0 3 2
17% win rate
5th 1160
1957 USAC National Championship
Roger G Wolcott
12 2 4 3
25% win rate
11th 740
1957 F1 World Championship
Roger G Wolcott
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1956 F1 World Championship
Ed Walsh
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1956 USAC National Championship
Roger G Wolcott
Federal Engineering
Ed Walsh
10 0 2 0
0% win rate
8th 862
1955 F1 World Championship
ER Casale
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1955 AAA National Championship
Pete Salemi
ER Casale
Ed Walsh
DA Lubricants
6 0 0 0
0% win rate
17th 252.2
1954 F1 World Championship
Dr RN Sabourin
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1954 AAA National Championship
Grant Piston Ring
DA Lubricants
Pete Salemi
Dr RN Sabourin
MA Walker
10 0 0 0
0% win rate
23rd 210
1953 F1 World Championship
MA Walker
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1953 AAA National Championship
MA Walker
10 0 2 2
20% win rate
11th 540.2
1952 F1 World Championship
Federal Engineering
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1952 AAA National Championship
Federal Engineering
Leo Dobry
MA Walker
7 0 0 0
0% win rate
23rd 240
1951 F1 World Championship
Bruce Bromme
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1951 AAA National Championship
Bruce Bromme
Karl Hall
Dr Ludson D Morris
8 0 0 0
0% win rate
30th 192
1951 AAA Stock Car Championship 1st -
1950 AAA National Championship
Esmeralda
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
46th 30