Teenager Ward Basking in Breakout Season, Leads Butler U-Pull-It Bombers
By Chuck Corder
What a difference a new ride makes.
Hunter Ward wishes he had a crystal ball last year.
All things considered, the 18 year old from Pensacola had a respectable 2013 season, which included his first two career Butler U-Pull-It Bombers wins at Five Flags Speedway.
But Ward fought that car’s handling night and day, both on and off the track. After a mid-season wreck finally did it in, Ward purchased the silver No. 1 that has already brought him two wins and the Bombers points lead in this young season.
“It has made a big difference,” he said. “I was fighting my old car so much, the frame was out of whack and it just didn’t work like it was supposed to anymore.
“I got this fresh-new car and I was, like, ‘Dang.’ My friends and I have been working with it and getting it to where we want it to be. If I would’ve known all that, I would’ve junked the old car a long time ago.”
Ward carries a 16-point lead over defending track champion Michael Nelson into the 20-lap Bombers feature on Friday.
The Super Late Models return for the Rubber and Specialties 125, the second of four Buddy’s Home Furnishings Blizzard Series races this season, along with the Modifieds and Sportsmen when the gates open at 4 p.m. Friday.
Admission is as follows: $15 for adults; $12 for seniors, students and military; $5 for children ages 6 to 11; free for kids under 6.
Despite a stepfather and stepbrother that raced as he grew up, Ward didn’t take an immediate interest in the sport until he was 11.
Junior Coleman, Ward’s stepdad, started the precocious youngster on dirt, but Ward quickly found himself on asphalt after a few years.
He has competed off and on at the famed half-mile asphalt oval for about seven years, and began racing a full schedule three seasons ago.
Ward scored his first win at Pensacola’s high banks last August, a bittersweet feeling knowing the man that got him started in the sport wasn’t there to witness it.
“I wish my stepdad had been alive to see it,” said Ward of Coleman, who died three years ago. “It probably was one of the happiest moments I’ve ever had. It took some relief off me.”
For Ward, there’s one big mechanical factor that gives him relief on the racetrack.
“Handling,” he said bluntly. “Everybody thinks it’s power, power, power, but it’s all about handling. If the car doesn’t turn left like you need it to, you might as well hang it up. That’s the key.
“I’ve got everything I need to know in my head. If the car is tight, I know what to do loosen it up. And the other way around. I’m not gonna say I’ve perfected everything, but I have it down to a science.”
Off the track, there are multiple factors for his success. Those come in the form of his sponsors, some relationships of which his late stepfather paved the way for.
If his transmission goes down, Ward has Chuck at Chuck’s Transmission out in Fairhope, Ala., helping him out. Even if he doesn’t a whole lot about Chuck.
“I don’t know his last name,” Ward said with a chuckle. “I’ve known him since I was little, though.”
His mother, Shannon Coleman, and her employer, Carson’s Pawn and Gun, along with Auto Save Tire Center also serve as sponsors for the No. 1.
The time and expense of racing seems to be wearing on Ward these days.
A recent graduate of George Stone’s marine service technology program, Ward works full-time at Lou’s Marine in Gulf Breeze.
Finding the available hours at the end of day to make adjustments on his car has become increasingly challenging.
Ward’s thankful to have a close-knit group of friends that will either motivate him to turn wrenches or pick up the slack if Ward’s too exhausted.
“If it wasn’t for my friends, I would’ve missed a couple races,” he said. “I’ve been scared of getting into a wreck, so I don’t miss out.”
Ward’s aggressive driving has drawn the ire of some of his rivals. Former points leader Jerry Goff Jr. gave Ward a piece of his mind last month and some folks didn’t take too kindly to Ward driving 13-year-old former winner Ryan Worsham so tough two weeks ago.
Ward has no ill intentions when he’s up on the wheel and had some sound reasoning when questioned about his style.
“I do drive aggressively, but I would never, ever take someone out on purpose,” he said. “I drive aggressively because the goal is to win. And as much money as my mom and (all my sponsors) drop into it, I shouldn’t be wasting it and piddling around.”
Plus, the kid has a new ride.
Can you blame him for wanting to test its limits? He hasn’t found many yet