Californian had been oldest living winner


INDIANAPOLIS -- Two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rodger
Ward died Monday at a hospice in Anaheim, Calif., Indianapolis
Motor Speedway officials said.

At 83, Ward was the oldest living winner of the race. He won in
1959 and 1962, during a six-year span in which he finished no worse
than fourth.

Ward was second to A.J. Foyt in 1964, failed to qualify in 1965
and drove for the 15th and final time in 1966, finishing 15th. The
next night, at the Victory Banquet, Ward announced his retirement
at 45.

"I felt like it was time," he later recalled. "Some drivers
go past their time."

Ward was born Jan. 10, 1921, in Beloit, Kan., and moved with his
family to Los Angeles as a child. When he was 14, he built a Ford
hot rod with parts from his father's junkyard business and began
drag racing.

Ward, a fighter and bomber pilot in World War II, returned to
Southern California after the war and began racing midgets. He
passed his rookie test at Indianapolis in 1951 and finished 27th.

He considered quitting racing four years later, however, when
his front axle snapped, triggering a crash that killed his close
friend and two-time defending Indy 500 champion Bill Vukovich.

"I don't know that I could really explain to you how badly I
felt," Ward said. "To me, it was an absolute disaster."

Vukovich's family persuaded Ward to continue racing.

During his career, Ward won 26 champ-car races and two U.S. Auto
Club titles. His final victory was April 24, 1966, in Trenton, N.J.

"I was pretty famous in my own territory, but when I came to
Indianapolis, and the first time I ran here, I wasn't known as a
driver from California. I was an Indy driver," he said in a 1999
interview with the speedway. "Indy makes the race driver. You
become famous when you come here. I don't care where else you race
in the world."

With Ward's death, the oldest living Indy winner is Jim
Rathmann, 75, who won the race in 1960.

Surviving are Ward's wife, Sherrie; sons, Rodger Jr., David and
Rick; and daughter, Robin.

The speedway said services were pending.