WILLCOX — A local 12-year old may have what it takes to become an auto racing star.
TJ Ward, the son of drag-racing father Trevor Ward, just captured a national finals age-group title Saturday, Sept. 21 in Las Vegas.
Ward, from Willcox, captured the Wally, a trophy awarded to the 10-12 year-old champion of the NHRA drag racing Junior Championships at the Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“It felt good, very good, it was crazy,” TJ said. “I was surprised because there were so many cars and we went so far.”
Ward won seven straight races in a competition where 75-80 youths qualified. He nearly added another title on Sunday of the same weekend, winning five straight to reach the semi-finals of the championship race.
“He lost on a false start. His reaction time was negative .007, leaving 7 thousandths of a second too early,” Trevor said. “Had he went green, he would have won the race and been in the finals.”
Trevor, who is the tuner of the car, said that for the driver “it’s reaction time and how consistent your car is. It’s very difficult for young age drivers to be taught reaction time, but TJ is a natural at it. He’s been racing since he was 6 years old. He’s been in his current car since he was 8.”
Natural ability is a start, but it takes plenty of practice, from running with your own light tree at home to committing to a full racing season in Tucson, where TJ won all six of the races he entered this past year, and finished third in a regional competition to qualify for the nationals.
The Wards are a racing family and there may be a little jealousy over TJ’s capturing of a Wally.
“I’ve been racing since 1994 and never won that,” Trevor said. “My brother Rodney and my Dad have won one, but my dad has been racing since 1962.”
“I’m thankful for the Wally. I get to brag a little bit about it,” TJ said. “It was nerve wracking because there was a bunch of people watching. I just tried to focus as hard as I could.”
“We hope to carry TJ’s momentum into next year,” Trevor said, “when he’ll still qualify as a 12 year-old racer.”
Next season,” TJ said, “hopefully, another win. I want to try harder with more races and my practice tree at home to get the national title.”