Feature Article, Open Wheels, Oregon — April 6, 2015 at 4:47 pm

Leo Ward (Issue 108)

by

IT-108 Leo Ward dwarf car

By Steve Heeb

Leo Ward grew up racing motocross and other motorsports throughout the Northwest.

“Ever since he was 3 he’s been into go karts, open-wheelers and snowmobiles,” dad Grant says of his son. “He’s always been into motorsports.”

At 14, Leo found success on a Suzuki LTR 450 quad during winter arenacross competition in Clark County, winning the 450s championship in his second year. More impressive is that the title came after the Milwaukie High School sophomore had hurt his back early in the season.

Five years ago, a new type of racing caught the Ward’s attention.

“We started following the dwarfs after going to a few races,” Grant says. “We wound up buying two cars from Jim Pavel.”

One was a ’37 Chevy coupe dwarf car waiting for Leo to be ready.

“I already had the car but I was too young to drive,” Leo says. “I decided that having a cage around me was nicer than not having one.”

The Wards also had a ’34 Ford delivery sedan powered by a 2006 Kawasaki ZX10 1000-cc motor.

“That was the car that got me Rookie of the Year,” Leo says of the 2010 season. “Up until the last race it had motor issues. Now we got it going.”

“His first race was an indoor event in Salem,” Grant recalls. “The kid’s just a natural. It’s awesome how he has excelled at it.”

Leo says he sees the same need to find a good rhythm whether in quads or on a clay oval, though each type has its differences.

“In quads you’re always shifting,” he says. “With the dwarf I just put it in gear and keep going. It was a lot different.”

In addition to an extra pair of wheels, the dwarf cars come with additional safety equipment that has come in handy.

“Having a cage feels a lot nicer,” Leo says. “Even after flipping eight times during my rookie season I was back out there on the same night. But the car was so badly damaged we had to get a new one.”

“He rolled eight times at Lebanon,” Grant cringes. “We had to cut him out of the car with a sawsall.”

While making the transition from bikes to dwarf cars, Leo appreciated the advice of veterans like Jim Pavel.

“Jim’s a clean and aggressive driver really able to hold his line,” Leo says. “He and a lot of people told me to work on going slower and smoother.”

“Slow down to go fast,” Jim counsels.

A willingness to try different racing lines has been an area of improvement for Leo.

“I had the concept that the bottom line was the shorter line,” he says. “But I’ve tried running up high and that has worked.”

Leo also looked to fellow drivers like Henry Corbin Jr.

“He’s always been able go where he wants on the track,” Leo says of the driver of the 89Z dwarf. “I try to do the same as he does. If I beat him I’ve done something good.”

“He studies the art of racing,” Grant says of his son’s work ethics that earn the respect of others in the club. “He has a talent with the mechanics and is still an amazing wrench. He likes working in the shop and has been a great help. He does most of the work on the car himself.”

Leo says racing is all about family, and his car carries a tribute to grandfather Blair Ward. His parents have been have been a consistent source of family support.

“They’re always helping me get to the track and I appreciate all their support,” Leo says, with an extra nod to his boss. “Ed’s Mower & Saw Shop has been great to allow me time off to travel to the races.”

He also credits Canby Graphics for their work on the car’s graphics.

Leo’s dwarf car racing has taken to tracks throughout the Northwest, including Coos Bay, St. Helens and Madras, where he has enjoyed the most success. The club also ventures north to Skagit each season.

“I won there in 2013,” Leo says of last year’s race at Skagit. “The track went a little dry just the way I like it.”

Grays Harbor Raceway also has returned to the dwarf group’s schedule, made up of 19 point races drawing a typical car count of 20-25. Leo finished the 2013 campaign third in the point standings, but faced engine challenges throughout the 2014 campaign.

“I’d like to be at the top of the dwarfs,” he says of upcoming seasons. “And win some championships.”

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