West Coast Drivers Continue A Decades-Long Tradition Of Speed By Scott Keyes; Stock Car Racing December 2001
When the NASCAR Winston West Series... was first put on the map way back in 1954, no one could deny the talent level of West Coast drivers. Although NASCAR's roots, for the most part, are traced back to the Southeast, with the likes of the Pettys, the Earnhardts and the Allisons, the West Coast provided its share of top-notch talent that was almost comparable. However, back then no one really knew about the West Coast racers. Now, with the emergence of Kevin Harvick, Ron Hornaday and Kurt Busch, the West Coast and the Winston West Series could be all active participant in the growth of NASCAR for many years to come.
Even before Harvick and Hornaday came East, the likes of Derrike Cope, Ernie Irvan and Chad Little moved toward their own NASCAR dreams and made a splash in NASCAR Winston Cup racing. None of this could have been possible without the generations before them who paved the way For West Coast talent. Guys like Hershel McGriff, Jack McCoy, Ray Elder, Ron Hornaday Sr., Bill Amick, Jimmy Insolo and Parnelli Jones proved to the rest of the racing world that they could drive against the best drivers in the world ... and beat them.
NASCAR Winston West Series
Origin: * Born when NASCAR went to the West Coast and began sanctioning the Pacific Coast Late Model circuit in 1954. The series has since been known as Grand National West and Winston West Grand National.
Cars: * Series cars are virtually the same as those raced in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. However, a major difference is under the hood. Winston West Series cars are powered by 358ci V-8 engines with a maximum compression ratio of 9.5to 1.
Point Fund: * Series sponsor R.J. Reynolds contributed $350,000 to the 2001 point fund.
Tracks: * Series visits tracks ranging in size from a 1/8-mile paved oval to a 2-mile superspeedway. Major Western markets targeted include Los Angeles, Phoenix, Denver, Seattle, Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.
The Starting Point
Early on, West Coast drivers had few optioins. They had the opportunity to move South and race, but the money wasn't what it is today. Chasing the dream of becoming a top-notch race car driver back East didn't take precedent over putting food on the table and feeding the family. Once the realization came that it wasn't too practical for the West Coast's elite to race back East, the racers began sanctioning the Pacific Coast Late Model circuit. The series visited historic tracks such as Oakland (California) Speedway, Balboa Stadium in San Diego, Ray Meadows Race Course in San Mateo, California, and Carrell Speedway in Gardena, California.
Stock Car Racing
The 1954 series schedule featured nine races, with the first event taking place at the 3/8-mile Oakland Speedway. The track was known as "The Oakland Wall" because of incredible 65-degree banking used for some events. While McGriff won the pole position, it was Dick Rathmann who drove through the field to win the 250-lap race in a 1952 Hudson. The series quickly began to grow, fueled by support from Detroit automakers. Thirteen races were held in 1955, followed by 27 events in 1956 and 32 in 1957. As the series expanded, the number of tracks on the schedule grew. The complexion of the series changed drastically in 1957, however, after the automakers pulled their financial support. In 1958, the schedule again contained only nine races.
The popularity of the series began to rebound in the '60s with the help of premier racetracks such as Riverside (California) International Raceway. Drivers such as McCoy and Elder hit the scene, and things took off like gangbusters. "I spent 10 outstanding years of my life in the NASCAR Winston West Series, and I loved every minute of it," McCoy says. He holds the all-time series record for victories with 54. "At the time when I came up through the ranks people thought all of the action was back East, but let me tell you the drivers on the West Coast could also drive their tails off. You look at what I did with 54 victories in the series. I think it's a record that will definitely stay intact. Nowadays, if a driver from the West Coast is any good, he is going to North Carolina. With the money that is out there, who could blame them." Elder is second on the all-time win list with 47 wins, followed by McGriff, who has 35. When it comes to championships, Elder leads with six (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1974 and 1975), followed by Bill Schmitt (1977, 1979,1989 and 1990) and Roy Smith (1980, 1981, 1982 and 1988).
Elder's team also made a significant mark in racing by becoming the only West Coast team in the modern era to win a NASCAR Winston Cup (then Grand National) race. Elder won the Motor Trend Riverside 500 on January 10, 1971, at Riverside International Raceway. He also won the Golden State 400 on June 18, 1972, at Riverside. "When Ray won those races it proved to a lot of people that the West Coast could definitely keep up with the major players in stock car racing," McCoy says. "Being out on the West Coast nobody really knew a whole lot about us, but all of a sudden we were getting the respect we deserved."
Through the '60s and '70s, meanwhile, the series visited fewer and fewer dirt tracks. The final Winston West Series race on dirt was in 1978. Once Riverside closed at the end of the 1983 season, the series was in a whirlwind once again. However, the series continued to evolve, with various changes taking place during the '80s and early '90s. The construction of beautiful speedways - such as California and Las Vegas - sparked a resurgence in the series.
Meanwhile, competition for Winston West Series drivers has stretched beyond the United States with racers from the West Coast participating in NASCAR events in Australia in 1988 and in Japan in 1996, 1997 and 1998. And in 1999 the series became the first in NASCAR to hold a championship race outside of North America - with the season finale at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.
With the success of its drivers in recent years, the sky's the limit on how far the Winston West Series could go. "As a driver, you couldn't ask for a better learning tool than the NASCAR Winston West Series," says Mark Reed, a rookie this season in the series. "I couldn't ask for a better training ground than what I'm currently going through. The exposure definitely helps you get your name out there, and if you want to make the move up it's definitely a plus."
When you look at Hershel McGriff, you see a man who has 8,000rpms running through his veins every second of the day. You also see the spirit of a racer - the spirit that still drives a 73-year-old man to go racing. McGriff won a race in the initial year of the NASCAR Winston West Series back in 1954 when it was known as the Pacific Coast Late Model Series. He returned to the series to run the full schedule in 2001. Why does this superman from Portland, Oregon, continue to slide behind the wheel of a stock car? "It is the love of the sport and the love of the life," McGriff says. "As long as the good Lord allows me to race, I am going to race. It is something I love, and it is something I am going to do."
The 2001 season brought McGriff to one of the most respected car owners in the series, as owner Bill McAnally expanded to two teams. McAnally's other driver is Brendan Gaughan, the 2000 series champion. "Don't let his age fool you, because he still is able to drive a car and kick a lot of people's butt out here," Gaughan says. "The man's knowledge of the sport is second to none, and he's been a tremendous help to me this season." McGriff started racing in 1945 at the tender age of 17. He drove his father's 1940 Hudson at Portland Speedway. By 1950 he was ready to make his mark on the NASCAR Grand National Series, the predecessor to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. McGriff's best Winston Cup season came in 1954 when he recorded four wins, 13 Top-5 finishes and 17 Top 10s in 24 starts. He finished sixth in points.
McGriff was voted the Winston West Series' most popular driver for 12 straight years, and won the series championship in 1986. "Winning that championship has to be one on the high points of my career," McGriff says. "Everything just seemed to go my way that year."
THIS IS THE SOUTHERN VERSION OF NASCAR HISTORY AND THE STORY OF STOCK CAR RACING. NO MENTION OF THE IMPORTANT ROLL THAT WEST COAST DRIVERS, TEAMS, SPONSORS, PROMOTERS AND BUILDERS PLAYED. THE WEST COAST STOCK CAR HALL OF FAME'S GOAL IS TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT IN THE MEMORY OF THOSE EARLY WEST COAST PIONEERS.
PART ONE: Bill France Sr. was born in Washington, D.C. and lived there until his early 20s. His father was a teller at Park Savings Bank in Washington, and his son might have followed in his footsteps with the exception that he had a fascination with the automobile and how it performed. As a teenager, Bill Sr. would often skip school and take the family car to a nearby track and run laps until he had enough time to get the car, a Model-T Ford, back home before his father got home. He held several hands-on jobs until he eventually owned his own service station. He made a name for himself and built a customer base by getting up early in the wintry mornings and going out to crank the cars for white collar bureaucrats.
In 1934 the Frances loaded up their car and headed for the south with a total of $25. Where they were headed has never been clearly established but some say Tampa and others say Miami Beach. Two days later they arrived in Daytona Beach. Rumors say that they were broke and had to settle there while some say his wife had a sister in nearby New Smyrna Beach and still others say that their car broke down and they had no choice but to settle in and stay there. However years later Bill Jr. stated that his mother did not have a sister living in New Smyrna Beach and that a broken down car would never stop his father from getting where he wanted because he was an experienced mechanic.
The hard packed sand between Daytona Beach and its northern neighbor Ormond Beach was the site of the world-record automobile speed trials. They started in 1902 and picked up speed right up to the '30s. By then the speeds were approaching 300 miles per hour along the firm and smooth inviting sand. In the spring of 1935 Sir Malcolm Campbell was taking his Bluebird rocket car to Daytona Beach in hopes of running at 300 miles per hour for yet another land-speed-record. Along with this and the weather and the smaller hospitable and more affordable area maybe this is the reason behind the Frances staying in Daytona Beach. Campbell never did get his record of 300 mph at Daytona, instead his best he could do was 276.82mph and on March 7, 1935 Campbell announced that he was moving the speed trials to Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. It was the shifting winds and changing tides that made Campbell realize that he would not reach his goal of 300 mph if he kept working out of Daytona Beach. Campbell did beat the 300mph speed at Bonneville in late 1935.
Daytona Beach area officials were determined to bring in speed-related events after Campbell left and this was how Bill France Sr. got his start in race promotions in late 1935. City officials asked championship dirt track racer and local resident Sig Haugdahl to organize and promote an automobile race along a 3.2 mile course which included Highway A1A southbound from Daytona Beach and the same beach that had been used for the land speed record runs. The 78-lap, 250 mile event for street-legal family sedans was sanctioned but the American Automobile Association for cars built in 1935 and 1936. Daytona Beach posted a $5,000.00 purse, with $1,700.00 for the winner. The biggest problem was that people arrived there earlier than the ticket-takers and established their spots on the beach. The turns at each end very virtually impassable, leading to stuck and stalled cars which created scoring disputes and technical protests. Then the race was called after 75 laps with Milt Marion declared the winner. France finished fifth behind Marion, Shaw, Elmore, and Sam Purvis. Ben Shaw and Tommy Elmore both protested the race but their appeals were squashed. That was the first and last race the City of Daytona Beach ever promoted. Well how would you feel if your City lost $22,000.00 from one race promotion?
Haugdahl and France had become very good friends and were not about to give up. Together they talked the Daytona Beach Elks Club into helping promote a race over Labor Day weekend of 1937. Despite a paltry $100.00 purse and improved management, promotion, and track conditions the Elks lost money too. They also like the city lost their interest in motor sports promotion. With that Haugdahl decided that he too had enough and he bowed out of the motor sport promoting as well. This left France all to himself to try and get the area interested since he could still see a future for stock car racing, however he was a struggling filling-station operator and didn't have enough cash to cover a purse, advertise and promote the race plus pay the city to set up the course.
PART TWO . . . France was finally able to convince local restaurateur Charlie Reese, rich and well known, to post a $1,000.00 purse and let France recruit drivers and spread the word. Danny Murphy beat France in the 150-miler that generated just enough profit to convince the co-promoter to do it again. They managed another successful stock car promotion on Labor Day weekend of 1938. France beat Lloyd Moody and Pig Ridings in that race and then organized and promoted three more races in March, July, and September of 1939. They did it again in March , July 4, and September of 1940 France fared well in those three races of 1940 finishing fourth in March, first in July, and sixth in September. France was able to promote two races in March, one each in July and August of 1941 prior to the war breaking out. The war brought a stop to motor sport racing and France went to work for the Daytona Boat Works while his wife handled the family filling station.
Shortly after the war ended and things started returning to normal, Bill France left the boat works. France was obsessed with the idea that a single, firmly governed sanctioning body was necessary if stock car was to be a success. He was well aware, as a driver and promoter, that the minor-league sanctioning bodies reeked of inconsistency. France wanted an organization that would sanction and promote races, bring uniformity to race procedures plus technical rules. He wanted an association that would oversee a membership benefit and insurance fund, and one that would promise to pay postseason awards, and crown a single national champion using a clearly defined points system.
At that time there were several organizations who claimed to sanction national championship races. One was the American Automobile Association (AAA), but they were more concerned with open-wheel, open-cockpit, champ car racing. The A.A.A eventually became known as the USAC/CART league (Indy-car racing). The other groups were the United Stock Car Racing Association, National Auto Racing league, and American Stock Car Racing Association. The Georgia based National Stock Car Racing Association was only interested with-in the state and so they didn't crown a national champion. The Daytona Beach Racing Association only promoted within the city so they made no claim to a national champion either. France was so devoted to creating a racing association that would adhere to the rules mentioned above. With that in 1947 he retired from racing so he could concentrate all his time and attention to organize that body.
The first meeting of the National Association for Stock Car Automobile Racing was held on December 12, 1947 at the Streamline Inn Motel in Daytona Beach, Florida. The organization named Bill France Sr. as its first president. William Henry Getty France, aka, Big Bill France, gathered together a group of racing promoters, drivers, and mechanics with the dream of establishing an organization to set a standard set of rules and regulations to help promote stock car racing.
Incorporated on February 21, 1948, the organization hired Erwin "Cannonball" Baker to be the first Commissioner of Racing. The new organization sanctioned its first race on the Daytona Beach road/beach course in February of 1948, several days before it was legally incorporated. More than 14,000 fans watched that first event, a 150-miler that Red Byron won ahead of Teague, Raymond Parks, Buddy Shuman, and Wayne Pritchett.
France's original plan was for NASCAR to oversee three separate and distinct classes of cars: Strictly Stock, Modified, and Roadsters. Perhaps surprisingly, the Modified and Roadster classes were seen as more attractive to fans than Strictly Stock. As things turned out, though, the audience NASCAR attracted wanted nothing to do with Roadsters, a "Yankee" series more popular in the Midwest and Northeast. It didn't take long for France to recognize that he didn't need the Roadster.
After the war was over the big automakers had to switch production from Tanks and Jeeps back to their makes of cars. This got France to thinking that the fans would want to purchase cars when they see them winning at the races and he knew that productions were going to be slow for a while. He decided that NASCAR would run pre '40s Fords and Chevrolets plus a handful of new Buick's were allowed. The 1948 schedule covered 52 dirt-track races for modified's and Red Byron was the national champion that year.
PART THREE . . . In February of 1949, France staged a 20 mile exhibition race near Miami for his Strictly Stock division. Fearing he would lose out to a promoter in North Carolina, France decided to stage a Strictly Stock points race. This race took place in June and was scheduled as a 200-lap, 150 mile race around a 3/4-mile dirt track in Charlotte, North Carolina. It carried a purse of $5,000. for 33 street-legal family sedans that had been built since 1946. Pole sitter Bob Flock led the first five laps in a 46 Hudson, Bill Blair led laps 6 thru 150 in a 1949 Lincoln, and Glen Dunnaway led the remaining laps in a 1947 Ford. After the race Dunnaway's car was inspected and failed because he had altered the rear springs. He was disqualified and moved to the back of the field and stripped him of the win and money. This moved Roper to the first place spot followed by Fonty Flock in second, Byron in third, Sam Rice in fourth, and Tim Flock finished out the top five. Hubert Westmoreland owner of Dunnaway's car sued the new sanctioning body for $10,000. however a North Carolina Judge ruled that the officials had the right to make and enforce their rules without outside interference and dismissed the suit. That mid-summer race attracted 13,000 plus fans, far more than was expected. NASCAR promoted seven more Strictly Stock races that year: two each in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, one each in Florida, New York, and Virginia. Byron won the Strictly Stock class that year in what was to become the Grand Nationals and Winston Cup series. Lee Petty finished 2nd in points followed by Bob Flock, Curtis Turner, and Jack Smith. Fifty drivers raced in at least one race each that year and between 16 and 45 drivers showed up for each race.
France wondered what was missing from his Strictly Stock division. He had to come up with a blockbuster event to draw more attention to his Strictly Stock cars. The USAC champ car circuit had the Indy 500, and NASCAR Modified and Sportsman division had their annual beach/road races in February at Daytona Beach. In 1950 Harold Brasington built a 1.25 mile, high-banked, egg shaped speedway just west of his hometown of Darlington. He stunned the racing world by paving it and saying that he wanted to someday host a 500-mile stock car race. Brasington himself a retired racer had known France from their old racing days at Daytona and other dirt tracks throughout the Southeast and Midwest. He was aware that France's new organization wanted to expand their image and he figured a 500-mile race would be the answer.
In the fall of 1949 Brasington bought a 70 acre farm from Sherman Ramsey and he began carving a superspeedway out of what had been a cotton and peanut field. Instead of developing his track into a true oval, he was forced to create an egg-shaped facility with one end tighter, more steeply-banked and narrower than the other end. You see he promised Ramsey when he purchased the land that the track wouldn't disturb the minnow pond on the property's western fringe. So that meant that Barrington could make the eastern end as wide, sweeping, and flat as he wanted but the western end had to be just the opposite because of the minnow pond.
It took almost a year to build and pave the new track. In the summer of 1950 as Sam Nunis spoke of promoting a 500-mile NASCAR race at Lakewood Speedway in Atlanta, Barrington and France were making the final arrangements to run a 500-miler at Darlington on Labor-day. The inaugural Southern 500 carried a stock-car record purse of $25,000. and was co-sanctioned by NASCAR and the rival Central States Racing Association. Over 80 cars showed up and it took two weeks to get them all qualified. The race started with a 75 car field aligned in 25 rows and three abreast.
After filling all 9,000 seats fans were directed to the infield where a sea of over 6,000 people watched the race. It took Johnny Mantz (West Coast Stock Car Hall Of Fame Inductee)more than six hours to cover the full 500 miles. He drove a 1950 Plymouth owned by France, Westmoreland, and a couple more guys. Fireball Roberts finished second, Red Byron was third, and Bill Rexford was fourth. The Southern 500 was NASCAR's only paved track event in 1950. There were only four paved events in 1951 and they were two at Dayton, Ohio and one each at Darlington, and Thompson, Connecticut. Paved tracks didn't begin to gain acceptance until the late '50s. Darlington and the half-miler at Dayton each had two races in 1952. In 1953 Darlington and the new 1-mile asphalt track at Raleigh, North Carolina each had a Grand National race. In 1954 Darlington, Raleigh, and the paved road course at Linden, New Jersey Airport had a race each. In 1955 Martinsville, Virginia had one race, Darlington one race, and Raleigh had two races.
NASCAR's future began to come in focus in 1956. NASCAR sanctioned 11 paved-track races among 56 events. They had 14 out of 53 venues in 1957, and 24 out of 51 venues in 1958. Not only were they racing on oval tracks France also scheduled road course races at Watkins Glen, New York, Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and Bridgehampton, New York. Suddenly, almost overnight, it seemed NASCAR racing was becoming a national series rather than a regional series, Bill France's dream was heading toward the future. *****
Rodger Ward and Parnelli Jones
By Tim Kennedy
LOS ANGELES, CA. - Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rodger Ward passed away Monday, July 5 at a hospice in Anaheim after battling ailments and diabetes in recent years. The 83-year old racing icon will be remembered as one of the all-time legends in Indy 500 racing history. The oldest living winner of the Indy 500 and one of the most revered open-wheel champions was the subject of a
25-inch obituary by Shav Glick in the July 6 Los Angeles Times. A photo of Rodger sitting in his Indy 500 winning Leader Card roadster was included in the tribute on page B.9.
Ward won the Indy 500 in 1959 during his initial season with Milwaukee-based car owner Bob Wilke and car builder/chief mechanic A. J. Watson. They comprised the famous three Ws racing team that was a major force in champ car racing for many years. In addition to his '59 Indy 500 triumph, Ward finished second in '60 (recognized as one of the best 500 races in history), third in
'61, first in '62, fourth in '63 and second in '64. For decades historians recalled that record as the most successful six-year finishing record in Indy history.
My personal memories of Ward go back to the mid-1950s when I read Bob Russo's stories in Speed Age magazine about him and other AAA Championship Trail drivers. Ward was a journeyman driver with limited success in mid or back of the pack cars until he hooked up with car owner Roger Wolcott in the mid-50s. That collaboration led to his becoming part of the front-line Wilke-Watson
operation in 1959. My first chance to see Ward race in person came in October 1957 when I watched him race the Wolcott # 8 champ dirt car to victory at the California State Fairgrounds dirt mile. His wife Jo and their small dog also appeared in Victory Lane photos. My first trip to see the Indy 500 in person wasin 1959 and Ward won that exciting roadster-era race. His on-track duels with Jim Rathmann, Pat Flaherty and Johnny Thomson made it memorable.
Hours after the race our charter group waited at the Indianapolis Airport to board our DC-6B pro/jet airplane. We were surprised to see Ward, winner of the 500 earlier that day, come through the airport escorting an attractive young lady to her flight. Ward was quite the ladies man. Several years ago Ward attended a race at Irwindale Speedway and came to the press box early to visit. I sat next to Rodger in the first row and talked one-on-one as we watched activities below on the track. I related the 1959 Indy Airport story to Rodger, but he did not recall it with memory-loss over the decades.
Born on Jan. 10, 1921 in Beloit, KS, 5'8", 170-pound Ward grew up as ayoungster in the north Los Angeles community of Highland Park and attended Franklin High. He built a hot rod from spare parts at his father's wrecking yard. During Word War II Ward piloted the distinctive P-38 fighter and also flew the B-17 bomber. He was such a skilled pilot he was retained after the war as a pilot instructor at Wichita Falls, TX. While serving in the military Rodger attended a midget race in Texas and later bought and raced an older midget. He received the life-long scar on his chin as a result of backing his midget into a wall.
Ward left the military service in the late 1940s and returned to Southern California. He raced the popular midgets, which competed as various tracks almost every night of the week. Rodger won one of his most memorable victories in 1950 at Gilmore Stadium in the final year of racing at the Los Angeles Fairfax District current site of CBS Television City. Rodger won the main event
in a Ford V8-60 Kurtis-midget against a field of the more powerful Offenhauser-powered midgets. He made his debut at the Indy 500 in 1951 and drovein 14 successive Indy 500s from 1951-64. (Hall Of Fame Note: Ward also won the 1951 AAA Stock Car Championship as well as many stock car races up and down the west coast.) His best finish in eight years before his 1959 victory was an eighth place in a roadster in the 1956 500.
Ward's racing career was marred by crashes that claimed the lives of two racing legends. During 1954 at Du Quoin, IL an accident on the front straight with Chuck Stevenson sent Rodger's car spinning into the pits where it hit and killed Clay Smith, his friend, mentor and former crew chief. Ward almost quit racing. During the 1955 Indy 500 Ward's dirt track car broke an axle, hit the wall and flipped to mid-track leaving turn two. It resulted in a five-car crash that claimed the life of race leader and two-time winner Bill Vukovich.The 1953-54 Indy winner swerved right, hit the wall and flipped many times outside the backstretch. Officials revealed his fatality during the race.
That crash also hit Rodger hard and led to a down period in his racing fortunes. Although some people criticized Ward for the crash, the Vukovich family in Fresno, CA absolved him of blame. The 1955 season was devastating in racing worldwide. Fatalities led to the AAA withdrawal from race sanctioning and the birth of USAC in 1956. Ward's belief in his abilities led him to continue his racing career and his perseverance was rewarded shortly. Ward said Indy 500 victories made his career. Four-time winner A.J. Foyt often says the same thing to this day.
Ward was an avid gin rummy player and golfer who shot in the low 80s when he and wife Diane lived in Indianapolis. He loved home-made ice cream. Rodger considered his best season to be 1963 when he won five of 12 USAC National Championship races, including three of the last four. Foyt also won five. Rodger won the USAC National Championship in 1959 and 1962 when the circuit had point races on both dirt and paved tracks. He won 26 National Championship races, second only to Foyt at the time. Ward also raced sports cars and stocks cars and was the AAA 1951 National Stock Car champion.
The year 1959 was memorable for Ward in addition to his Indy 500 victory. Two months after his 500 triumph Rodger drove Ken Brenn's 11-year old Kurtis midget in a USAC Formula Libre race at the Lime Rock, CT road circuit. No specifications or displacement rules were required. Cars just had to be
registered somewhere. Sports and stock cars, Grand Prix cars, midgets, super-modifieds and modifieds raced together in a pair of 20-lap races and a 60-lap finale. Ward's midget won the pole by a second and finished second to George Constantine's Aston-Martin in the first 20. Ward won the second 20 after dueling Constantine. Then Ward won the 60-lap race in a battle with the sports cars of Constantine and Chuck Daigh, in a Maserati. Rodger ran third early and after Constantine dropped out he passed Daigh with 10 laps to go and won convincingly.Ward's upset shocked the racing world. During December 1959, Rodger took the midget, fitted with a clutch, to the first Formula One US Grand Prix at the Sebring, FL road course. He ran eighth for awhile but a clutch failure caused him to exit the race.
Rodger failed to qualify his rear-engine Watson/Ford for the 1965 Indy 500 and was 34th fastest. He made his final Indy 500 in 1966 aboard the John Mecom-owned, rear-engine Lola/Offy and finished 15th, dropping out with poor handling after 74 laps. Rodger announced his retirement from competition the next night at the Indy 500 awards banquet because racing wasn't fun for him any
longer. When he retired, Ward led the Active and All-Time Drivers Championship Point Standings with 16,524.4 points. He also was the only Indianapolis Motor Speedway driver listed in the top ten in all divisions of All-Time IMS records. He was the top money winner, third in lap prize money, fifthin total points, sixth in mileage led, tied for seventh in number of races and ninth in laps
led. He also led the number of championship races driven with 150.
Following his retirement at age 45, Ward became a motor racing goodwill ambassador and visited military servicemen, showed racing films and talked racing. He was a vice president and national safety director for USAC. He became director of public relations for Ontario Motor Speedway when that IMS replica opened in 1970. In 1974 Ward resumed racing in short track stock car to help an
injured friend. Rodger raced at the long-gone Speedway 605 half-mile paved track in Irwindale, CA. He qualified second and finished fourth in his first race. He had fun but never won another feature before retiring for good. He also operated a tire business in the San Gabriel Valley.
The last time I saw Ward in person was Friday night, July 25, 2003 at the Four Points Sheraton Hotel in Monrovia, CA, where he was inducted with other drivers and racers into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame at a banquet. Tuxedo-clad Ward walked to the stage for his award assisted by a respectful Parnelli Jones, his 1960s Indy Car and stock car racing rival. Rodger spoke some words of appreciation and clearly enjoyed receiving the honor.
Ward eventually retired to the San Diego area and was active with the San Diego Automotive Museum at Balboa Park, where his memorial service was held Sunday, July 11 at 5:00 p.m. Survivorsinclude wife Sherrie, sons Rodger, Jr, 62, David, 58, Rick, 40 and daughter Robin, 39. His son David raced CRA sprint cars briefly as a 1972 CRA rookie in the # 46 sprint car. Ward's death now leaves Jim Rathmann, his long-time friendly rival and winner of the 1960 Indy 500, as the oldest living Indy 500 winner at age 75. Rodger leaves us all richer for the way he lived his life and contributed to the history of auto racing at the highest level.
West Coast Drivers Lead NASCAR List Of Best Finishes
Interesting many have asked if #9-Kasey Kahne's three top-five finishes was the best record by a driver in their first four races. The following was revealed upon a query of the database by Charlie Vass. Obviously, being just one of seven drivers in NASCAR history to accomplish this is still quite remarkable! Drivers records after four races....
Adkins, Allen 4 Top 5s 8/1/54 Oakland Stadium 3 8/22/54 Bay Meadows Race Course 4 5/8/55 Arizona State Fairgrounds 5 5/15/55 Tucson Rodeo Grounds 2
Minter, Clyde 4 Top 5s 9/25/49 Martinsville Speedway 4 10/16/49 North Wilkesboro Speedway 4 4/2/50 Charlotte Speedway 3 5/21/50 Martinsville Speedway 5
Gurney, Dan 3 Top 5s 2/16/62 Daytona International Speedway 4 2/18/62 Daytona International Speedway 27 1/20/63 Riverside International Raceway 1 2/22/63 Daytona International Speedway 5
Kahne, Kasey 3 Top 5s 2/15/04 Daytona International Speedway 41 2/22/04 North Carolina Speedway 2 3/7/04 Las Vegas Motor Speedway 2 3/14/04 Atlanta Motor Speedway 3 (NASCAR Statistical Services)(3-19-2004)
Dan Gurney and Erick Erickson were inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall Of Fame in 2003.