FORT WORTH-DALLAS (June 4, 1999) - Jeff Ward's season on the Pep Boys Indy Racing League auto racing circuit has seen the worst of times, the best of times and surprisingly has him on top of the point standings. But Ward is looking for the...
FORT WORTH-DALLAS (June 4, 1999) - Jeff Ward's season on the Pep Boys Indy Racing League auto racing circuit has seen the worst of times, the best of times and surprisingly has him on top of the point standings. But Ward is looking for the final piece to the puzzle Saturday, June 12 at the Longhorn 500 Presented by MCI WorldCom at Texas Motor Speedway.
The final puzzle piece? It would be Ward's first victory in Indy Racing competition on the Pep Boys IRL circuit. Past history gives Ward much to be enthusiastic about.
"I want to win every race I am in," said the former motocross motorcycle racer who has seven national two-wheel championships to his credit. "I drive the race car as hard as I can every race, give it everything trying to win. But you have to be smart about it and if you can't win, don't take unnecessary chances."
Ward's season has included a roller coaster ride of emotions and situations. Ward, along with crew chief Mitch Davis and some crew members, left their original IRL team following January's race at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando. Neither Ward or Davis had any definite plans.
Enter Jack and Allan Pagan of Corpus Christi, Texas. Their Indy Racing team had been dormant through the winter. Ward, Davis and the Pagans joined forces for the March Phoenix race and shocked everyone with a runner-up finish on the heels of a third-place Disney run.
Ward was dueling with eventual winner Kenny Brack for the Indianapolis 500 lead in the waning laps before Brack caught Ward in lapped traffic for the top spot. "I had to slow as I ran up on some lapped cars," said Ward. "Kenny timed his pass perfectly and he shot by me when I got tied up. Once he got by I knew it would be an uphill battle."
Ward's second-place showing at Indianapolis netted the team over a half- million dollars in awards. Several sponsors who joined the team for Indianapolis, including Yahoo and Merchant Online, will remain with the magical team for the rest of the year.
"Yeah, it has been quite a year," Ward laughed. "After Orlando we didn't have a team. After Phoenix we decided to go to Indy. But after Indy we had no idea if we were going to have the money to continue racing. Now, leading the points and with great sponsor support, we are ready for the rest of the season."
Ward enjoys the mile-and-a-half high-banked speedways that the Pep Boys Indy Racing League visits each year, especially Texas. Ward led both Pep Boys IRL races in Texas last year.
"The high-banked tracks are fun. I love racing under the lights like we will at Texas next week. It makes the weekend so special to race at night."
Ward knows what it is like to be a frontrunner. Only 1997 Pep Boys IRL champion Tony Stewart led more laps on the 1998 circuit than Ward.
"I am always very aggressive at the start of a race," he continued. "Even if I line up in fifth or sixth starting position, I try to be up front within a few laps. The competition in the IRL is so tough now, you have to stay at the front to have a chance to win.
"We believe that all of the ingredients are with our team now to be winners in the Indy Racing League. Mitch is the best crew chief in the business. It will be our turn in victory lane soon, hopefully in Texas."
Ward's weekend will start Thursday night, June 10 when starting positions and the pole are determined during Bud Qualifying Night. The June 12 Longhorn 500 Presented by MCI WorldCom will get the green flag at 6:30 p.m. (CDT) for its 208-lap journey.
Tickets for Saturday's race as well as Thursday's qualifying are available at Texas Motor Speedway's ticket office, by calling the speedway hotline at (817) 215-8500, on-line at www.texasmotorspeedway.com and at TicketMaster outlets.