from the pen of John Coelho and coldplugs.com
Ask any Lime Rock veteran about The race and they'll know exactly which one you mean. John Fitch has called it "the best race ever held by anybody, anywhere". It occurred on July 25th, 1959 - the race was sanctioned by USAC, paid prize money, and the invited drivers could race what they wanted.
The mix of cars and drivers was incredible. There were international stars like Pedro Rodriguez, landmark cars like Bill Mitchell's Stingray (the model for the later Corvette Stingray), well known US sports car drivers like George Constantine, Denise McCluggage, Dr. Dick Thompson, Chuck Daigh, and Lance Reventlow, and American good 'ole boys like Roger Ward with a Kurtis Midget.
Who would you bet on? Daigh, with his ex-Fangio Formula 1 Maserati? George Constantine in (probably) the fastest Aston Martin in the world? John Fitch in a Cooper Monaco? Would you have even given a thought to Roger Ward in a 91 cubic inch Offenhauser powered midget, with a one speed transmission, rear brakes only - an eleven year old car with over 1,000 races to its credit?
This photo from www.coldplugs.com
by Joe Terranova of Roger Ward hounding Constantine
BELOW A STORY OF THAT RACE AND SOME BEHIND THE SCENES INFO THAT ONLY THE DEAN OF AMERICAN MOTOR JOURNATLISTS COULD POSSIBLY KNOW AND WRITE ... the legendary Chris Economaki
"A BIG SURPRISE AT LIME ROCK, OR THE LITTLE MIDGET THAT COULD"
Let me tell you the wonderful,
amazing story of Rodger Ward at Lime Rock.
Rodger and I
were very good friends. He was a tremendous race driver who won the
Although a lot
of people don’t know this, road racing appealed to Rodger. He was somewhat
fascinated with the idea. He had raced in a couple of events with shit-box
sports cars, so he had just enough experience that he was intrigued.
There was a Formula Libre event coming up at
He often had
lunch at Le Chanteclair, the wonderful French restaurant at
“You know who
would like to drive that car? Rodger Ward. He’s won
I called Ward
and told him of the opportunity. We got Charlie on the phone and the three of us
agreed to have lunch together at Le Chanteclair and they could finalize the
arrangements. Rodger flies from
himself and left the table, while Ward and I chatted. Charlie comes back to the
table and says, “Well, Rodger, that was John Fitch, and he’s going to be driving
the car at Lime Rock.”
passes and another Formula Libre race is upcoming at Lime Rock. I began thinking
about that race, and something occurred to me: With the configuration of Lime
Rock, a good midget should be able to get around there really well if equipped
with a two-speed gearbox to make up some time on the straightaway.
I spoke with
Ken Brenn, who owned a superb, well-maintained Kurtis-Kraft Offy midget.
“You get Rodger
Ward, and I’ll take the car up there,” Ken said, a gleam in his eye.
The Formula Libre concept was
very simple: almost anything goes. You could bring any kind of racing car you
wanted, with no rules regarding engine displacement, wheelbase, anything. It had
to be a registered race car from some series, but beyond that there were no
This was July
25, 1959, and Ward and I are at the track waiting on Ken to arrive. He shows up
towing the midget on an open trailer behind his Cadillac, and the rear bumper of
the tow car is nearly dragging the ground. Ward looks at that Cadillac and turns
to me, saying, “What in the world is in the back of that car?”
Ken opens the
trunk and there is a spare Offenhauser engine. Ward took one look at that and
shook his head, saying, “You know, in all the years I’ve been racing, this is
the first car owner that came to the track with a spare engine. I’m impressed.”
soon underway, and Duane Carter—who was also entered in another midget—came
walking over. He says to Ward, “Rodger, my car still isn’t here, and I’d like to
get some practice laps in. Do you think your car owner would let me take a few
laps in your car?”
pulled the front wheels and drums. He removed the brake shoes, jumped in his
Cadillac, and drove to nearby Lakeville to a gas station where they hurriedly
relined the shoes. He gets back with just enough time to reassemble the brakes
and drums and rolls Ward to the starting grid.
As it turns
out, it was a helluva race.
Chuck Daigh was
there, driving a Maserati Formula One car. Ward was following Daigh, right on
his bumper. There is a right-hand turn that leads to a downhill, connected to
the front straightaway, and every time they came down to that right-hand turn
Daigh would drop his left-side wheels off the track and throw shit all over
Ward. Ward finally passed him, then chased down
told me, “I’ve won Indy twice, but my finest memory was winning at Lime Rock.”
As you might
imagine, the sports car people were thunderstruck that a midget could beat their
cars. They could not believe it. It really was a sensational day at the track.
Maserati had won a Formula One race.
That night, my
friend John Cooper was in Mt. Clemens, Michigan, for a midget race. Word
soon began to circulate of Ward’s victory at Lime Rock, and the PA announcer
informed the crowd that “Rodger Ward has beaten the sporty-car people with a
midget at Lime Rock Park,” and the place just rocked as the people roared their