Ward Drives 11-Year-Old Midget To Surprise Road-Course Victory
Indianapolis 500 winner Rodger Ward drove an 11-year-old midget to victory in the USAC Formula Libre event on July 25, 1959, at Connecticut’s Lime Rock Park, topping a 19-car field that included several of the world’s premier sports cars.
The midget, an Offenhauser-powered Kurtis-Kraft model owned by Kenny Brenn of Millington, N.J., was built in 1948 by the late Johnny Ritter and had raced almost continuously since that time. It had an estimated 1,000 race meets on its chassis.
Ward finished second behind the Aston-Martin DBR-2 driven by George Constantine in the opening 20-lap heat. Then, after a gear change to increase straightaway speed, Ward won the second heat.
The 60-lap finale saw Ward at a disadvantage at the start, his car carrying 175 pounds of alcohol fuel. Constantine roared into the first turn first and held on through the 10th lap when Chuck Daigh, who had passed Ward two laps earlier, grabbed the lead in a Maserati Grand Prix car.
The action was thrilling as the three machines, one green, one white and the blue midget, were, for the most part, very close.
Ward retook the lead on lap 14, but 10 laps later, while leading by some eight seconds, he ran off the track. Ward never backed off and did a dirt-track style slide for more than 700 feet, coming back on the pavement only inches in front of Daigh.
The maneuver brought the fans to their feet and the cheers were heard over the roar of the engines.
Daigh then passed Ward on the next lap and set the pace through lap 47. Ward had instructed his crew to let him know when there were 15 laps remaining, figuring his fuel load to be down to a point where he could maneuver better. So, two laps later, Ward drove by the Maserati on the main straightaway and for all practical purposes, that was the race.
Daigh finished second in the overall standings while Pedro Rodriguez was third in a Maserati 300S. Track manager John Fitch was fourth in a Cooper Monaco and Bob Colombosian rounded out the top five in a Lister-Bristol.
Ward provided a sample of things to come during qualifying when he posted a track record time of 1 minute, 4.67 seconds around the 1.53-mile road course.
A crowd of nearly 10,000 boosted the purse, which was $5,000 guaranteed vs. 30 percent of the gate, to $6,130 plus accessory monies. Ward grossed $1,562 for being first overall, first under two liters and the fastest qualifier.