Being a motorsports fan can sometimes be about a love for the cars themselves - the power and beauty of these machines, equal parts art and science - and it can sometimes be about a love for the men and women who drive them. There are stories behind these cars, from their creation to their competition, and sometimes to their battle scars.
Born in 1921, Rodger Ward joined the US armed forces to fight in World War II, taking to the skies as a pilot of the distinctive twin-engine Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter plane. Between the P-38 and the B-17 Flying Fortress, Ward proved himself to be a natural behind the flight stick, and developed a love of flying.
After the war, he turned to another speedy front: The thriving auto-racing scene. Most motorsports had been on hiatus during the war years as manufacturing capacity had been devoted to wartime materiel, but with the war's end, factories were making engines for cars instead of warplanes once more.
After a somewhat slow start to his career, Ward started to find success, adapting his high-speed tour of duty to the (relatively) slower pace of motorsports. He raced because it was fun, and he told friends he'd quit whenever it stopped being fun.
In 1951, Rodger Ward earned the right to compete in his first Indianapolis 500, though his car only made it through 34 laps before a broken oil line ended his run. This would prove to be somewhat of a pattern with Ward - mechanical failure and car troubles would repeatedly stymie his efforts at Indianapolis; he didn’t successfully finish an Indy race until 1956, when he finished eighth.
Years of attempts paid off in 1959, when Rodger Ward finally won the Indianapolis 500. A year later, Ward and Jim Rathmann battled for the lead in one of Indy racing’s most famous driver duels, where Ward would once again be undone by mechanical failure, outlasted by Rathmann on his road to victory.
Ward won at Indianapolis again in 1962, failed to qualify in 1965, and made it for one last hurrah in 1966, finishing fifteenth. After that race, he retired from auto racing; it had stopped being fun.
The 1966 Lola T90 is the car that Ward drove in the final year of his career, one of three produced by the Lola team factory. In it, he placed second at Phoenix and first at Trenton, racing as #24. For his final race at Indianapolis, the car was renumbered to #26, the number it still bears today.
World of Speed’s video looks at the story of the Lola T90 as told by race car restorer Walter Goodwin and Rodger Ward’s son, Rick. We hope you enjoy!