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Jeff Ward – Monkey Bike Urchin to All-Round Legend

Submitted by on September 30, 2009

Two-wheel luminaries Steve McQueen, Malcolm Smith and Mert Lawwill weren’t the only dudes to star in On Any Sunday. If you’re a fan of the film, you may recall one of the first scenes featuring a collage of all different kinds of bikes and riders, including a little urchin wearing an over-sized red full-face helmet doing a tremendous stand-up wheelie on his Honda 50 Monkey Bike, captured in slow motion.

That little urchin was an eight-year-old Jeff Ward who would go onto become one of the most successful racers in U.S motocross history, the best ever two-wheel convert to Indy Car racing who in his mid 40s added a couple of AMA Supermoto Championships and X Games titles along the way.

Scottish-born ‘Wardy’, whose family moved stateside when he was four, won nine AMA national championships and proved to be the most versatile rider in the history of the sport, winning 125, 250 and 500cc national motocross titles for the first time. He was also a 7 time winner of the MX Des Nations as a member of Team USA.

After he retired from MX in 1992, Jeff turned his attention to four-wheels. He recorded a brilliant third place at the 1997 Indy 500 and was named rookie of the year, and finished season ’98 in career-best sixth overall which he followed with a historic second at Indianapolis in 1999. He scored one career pole to his name and an Indy Car race victory in the 2002 Boomtown 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

By way of comparison, four-time World 500cc champ Eddie Lawson switched to Indy Cars after serving an apprenticeship in Indy Lights in the mid-90s, and secured a best career Indy Car finish of sixth at Surfers Paradise in 1996.

After a stint with Suzuki in 1978, 18-year-old Ward moved to Kawasaki and would remain with team green for the rest of his 15-year pro career, an extraordinarily long dig at the very top when you add his extensive junior racing years.

Indeed, Ward was the most successful of the first wave of minibike-bred racers of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s to progress to the pro MX ranks. Brian Myerscough was another young hot-shoe of the mid’70s who was expected to go onto greatness, but never quite made it.

Jeff’s son Brandon impressed with several victories in the Premier Mini Supermoto class in 2006, and at 17, has now joined his dad in off-road truck racing. Interestingly, Wardy’s other two sons are named Ayrton and Alain.

Their dad Jeff Ward combined incredible longevity with true greatness and reached a level of versatility that remains unsurpassed in modern motorsport.

Not surprisingly, Wardy’s favourite quote is: “If you’re not first, you’re last!”

Motorcycle Career Highlights

  • 1984—Won AMA 125cc national motocross title.
  • 1985—Won AMA national 250cc motocross and Supercross titles.
  • 1987—Won second AMA national 250cc Supercross championship.
  • 1988—Captured second AMA national 250cc motocross title.
  • 1989—Won AMA national 500cc motocross championship to become first rider in history to win every major AMA national motocross title.
  • 1990—Won second consecutive AMA national 500cc motocross championship.
  • 2004—Won AMA Supermoto Championship at 43 years of age.
  • 2006—Won X-Games Supermoto Championship at 45 years of age.
  • 2006—Won AMA Supermoto Championship (second title)
  • 2008—Won X-Games Supermoto Championship at 47 years of age (second title).

Car Racing Career Highlights

  • 1997—3rd at Indianapolis 500 in maiden effort
  • 1998—Earned career-first pole position at Phoenix IRL race, four top five finishes, finished career-best 6th in IRL season point standings.
  • 1999—2nd at Indianapolis 500, three top five finishes, finished 11th in IRL season point standings.
  • 2000—4th at Indianapolis 500, two top five finishes, finished 11th in IRL season point standings.
  • 2001—Two top five finishes, finished 11th in IRL season point standings.
  • 2002—Winner of Boomtown 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, finished ninth at Indianapolis 500, two top five finishes, finished 11th in IRL season point standings.

Darryl Flack

Videos:

1. On Any Sunday Trailer (Jeff Ward Wheelie 1 min 57)

2. 1986 Dallas Supercross – beating greats like Bailey and Johnson

3. 1984 Seattle Supercross – Jeff Wards first 250cc win

More on Wardys Career here

Video Interview from Supermoto Season here

Video from 1984 MX Des Nations here

More feature stories here

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