IRL: Jeff Ward Ready to Soak Up A. J. Foyt's Knowledge

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Friday, Jan. 14, 2000 - If one is an aspiring musician, they might dream about what it would have been like to have had Beethoven as a tutor. If you're a photographer, perhaps Ansel Adams, or in today's tennis...

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Friday, Jan. 14, 2000 - If one is an aspiring musician, they might dream about what it would have been like to have had Beethoven as a tutor. If you're a photographer, perhaps Ansel Adams, or in today's tennis world, perhaps Pete Sampras. For anyone serious about motorsports, Indy Racing League veteran Jeff Ward is about to live their ultimate dream: driving an entire season under the auspices of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt. Ward, of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., will debut in the Harrah's-A.J. Foyt Racing G Force/Aurora/Firestone at the Delphi Indy 200 at Walt Disney World Speedway on Jan. 29. The car will carry the famous number 14 that was emblazoned on the side of Foyt's cars for many years. Despite the tremendous history and winning tradition that Foyt and the number 14 carries, Ward said he doesn't feel more pressure to win and actually feels more at ease now than ever before in his three-year Indy Racing League career. "I don't put anymore pressure on myself than I would anywhere else," he said. "It's only going to help me because I have confidence in the team. I know they will make the right decisions, and we have the right equipment. "And there's no more pressure because I'm driving the 14 car, but it's going to make it all the more special when I win my first race. To win Indy with this team would make it all the more better." The Foyt-Ward combination will almost certainly be a potent one and is regarded by many observers as a preseason favorite to win the championship and the Indianapolis 500. Throughout his driving career, Foyt competed in 928 open-wheel and stock-car races, plus a number of endurance events. He won 172 major races and 12 championships. As just a car owner, Foyt added to his stable of Indianapolis wins by capturing the 1999 Indy 500 with Kenny Brack behind the wheel. Ward is no stranger to winning, either, having earned 20 AMA Supercross victories, 54 career national wins and seven national championships in his 15-year motocross career. A 38-year-old husband and father of four children, Ward has yet to win in Indy Racing League competition. But he has come oh-so-close to winning the Indianapolis 500 twice, in 1999, when he finished second, and in 1997 as a rookie, when he finished third and earned Bank One Rookie of the Year honors. Ward has four second-place finishes and eight top-five finishes in 24 Indy Racing League starts and has led during 12 races. Those are numbers that even defending series champion Greg Ray cannot boast. Ward believes his dedication to winning and his cool yet aggressive demeanor on the track is what caught Foyt's eye. "Like A.J. joked, I've been up front at Indy and other races a lot, and it' s better to have me on the team than racing against me," said Ward. "I had to prove myself. I didn't expect anybody to give me anything. I was a champion on the motocross side, and I know what effort it takes to win. But you can't expect to come into Indy cars and just have someone give you a ride because of your past credentials." According to Ward, having Foyt's expertise at hand is what will get him through crunch time at the end of a race and into victory circle. "Foyt clearly knows how to win at the end," Ward said. "When it comes to the race, I will rely on what he has to say, whether it's avoiding bad pit stops or just his general knowledge of what it takes. I have run up front at Indy every year and having someone who has been there that many times behind you gives you confidence. I think all of A.J.'s knowledge in general is what is going to help me out." Looking ahead to the season-opening Delphi Indy 200 at the tough 1-mile tri-oval Walt Disney World Speedway, Ward is ready to get out of the gate in furious fashion. "I'm looking for a victory," he said. "The first race is always tough. I've done well at Orlando the first two times I've driven there with a second- and a third-place finish. I really like the track and like to race there, but it's important to come out of that race with some good points, whether you win or not. "I want to win, but you've got to wait until the end of the race to see how your car's handling. I always seem to have my car working well at the end, but there's always circumstances that have caught me out. I'm hoping to change that in this first race."

-IRL/IMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Greg Ray , Jeff Ward , Kenny Brack , A.J. Foyt