July 6, 2004 by

Rodger Ward


Categories: Sports

rward.jpgRodger Ward, who was the oldest living winner of the Indianapolis 500, died on July 5. Cause of death was not released. He was 83.
Born in Beloit, Kan., and raised in Los Angeles, Ward was only 14 when he built his first Ford hot rod from parts he scavenged in his father’s junkyard. After serving as an Air Force fighter pilot in World War II, he returned to Southern California and began racing midgets.
Ward won the American Automobile Association stock car title in 1951. That same year, he finished 27th in his rookie test at Indianapolis. Ward spent the early 1950s honing his driving skills on the professional circuit, but considered dropping out of the sport in 1955 after participating in the horrific crash that took fellow driver Bill Vukovich Sr.’s life.
Vukovich was attempting to race his way into a third straight win at Indy. In lap 57, Ward’s axel broke, causing his car to spin out of control and overturn. As driver Johnny Boyd tried to avoid Ward’s overturned car, he drove right into Vukovich’s path. Vukovich hit Boyd broadside, then sailed over the wall. His car flipped once, smashed nose-first into the ground and exploded.
Ward only returned to the track after Vukovich’s family convinced him to continue racing. He went on to win the Indianapolis 500 in 1959, and again in 1962. His final Indy attempt occurred in 1966; he finished 15th. After the Victory Banquet, Ward announced his retirement. In later years, Ward worked with Composite Automotive Research, a Southern California firm that designed a low-priced car sold in Third World countries. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1992.
With Ward’s death, the oldest living Indy winner is now 75-year-old Jim Rathmann, who won the race in 1960.

5 Responses to Rodger Ward

  1. Michael Wilfing

    I remember meeting Rodger Ward during time trials at Indianapolis in the early 60’s. I was around ten years old and had never talked to a real race car driver. Rodger took the time to give me an autograph, shake my hand, and form a life long love for the sport of motor racing in my 10 year old head! I have thought of him often through the years and am sad to hear of his passing.

  2. Bill Rathge

    I was 11 yo when i got to go to the 1962 Indanapolis 500 and got to watch Rodger Ward win his second 500 and around the mid 60’s got to meet him at a car show in Detroit and got to shake his hand and talk to him about his 1962 500 win. I am very saddend to hear about his death.

  3. Don Davis

    I was reporting the race for the christian science
    monitor when Ward won his first 500.Mel Leighton was
    on the team and was the only black doing so at that
    time.The three W,s were popular winners and exemplified the best america had to offer. I am
    saddened at this late date to hear of his passing.

  4. Ken Saccks

    I want people to know that this legend, was robbed by the company called wtai or world transport authority. he was dupped by a man named Douglas Norman. Norman later indicted and now facing a nearly 4 million dollar judgement for fraud. Had coned many people out of their life savings. The company was a fraud. ANd This great race car driver was made a fool of at the end of a glorius carrer. Doug Norman, the judgement against him, came in 2003. shortly thereafter Rodger passed away. i’m sure it broke his heart to know that the company he talked so wonderfully about, was a lie. I hope he haunts Douglas Norman for the rest of eternity. Rest in peace Rodger, Everyday in heaven is now a race day victory for you.

  5. Rodger Powell

    I was named after the great Indy 500 winner in 1962 and always wanted to meet my namesake, but did,nt get to.I did email Rodger one day & he sent my a great autographed photo of him in the winning 1962 vIndy 500 car. Sad to learn of his passing a few year’s ago..Godspeed Rodger ..Your great name live’s on..

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