WILLCOX — There’s something about the rush that keeps T.J. Ward wanting more.
While his dad Trevor Ward checks the motor and brakes on the 12-year-old’s car, T.J. puts on his racing jacket and pants so he can take his place behind the wheel. With his car fueled up and good to go T.J., who was destined to sit in a vehicle with a powerful motor behind him and a checkered flag in front of him, puts his helmet on, slides into the vehicle and is ready to go.
“I like the rush of going down the track,” T.J said. “It’s bunch of vibration, but you can still see.”
The seventh grader at Willcox Middle School proved racing was in his blood on Sept. 21 when he was crowned the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Junior Drag Racing League Division 7 champion in Las Vegas. He dialed a time of 9.06 seconds and ran a time of 9.09 seconds.
“I was hoping to win,” T.J said. “I was very happy (when I won).”
According to the NHRA Jr Drag Racing League website “a drag race is an acceleration contest between two vehicles over a measured distance, usually a quarter-mile (1,320 feet). Jr. Dragsters compete over a distance of no more than an eighth-mile (660 feet).”
He competed against roughly 75 kids between the ages of 10 and 12 who ventured to Vegas from six states — Nevada, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii and New Mexico. T.J. and his competitors raced on an eight-mile strip.
“It was kind of crazy because of all the people that were there,” he said. “But I had people from Tucson too so it was nice.”
Trevor Ward agreed, having familiar faces around made the event more special.
“Drag racing is a big family,” he said.
The NHRA “was formed in 1951 by car enthusiast Wally Parks with the purpose of giving hot rodders a safe place to race,” according to the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League website. “Today, NHRA is the nation’s largest motorsports sanctioning body with 80,000 members and 130 member tracks across the United States and Canada.”
Drag racing season runs from February through September and the junior dragsters compete in eight races. T.J. competes in Tucson and participated in six of the eight races. He finished first in all six of the races, making him a perfect 7-for-7 in races he competed in this season.
“He’s a quick learner and coachable, so I knew if he worked hard he would have success,” Ward said.
What makes the Willcox native’s feat more incredible is this was his first full season of racing and he doesn’t get to practice often, as they go to the track in Tucson roughly two times a month. T.J. has been racing since he was 6 years old, but only in a couple races each year. Trevor said this was the first year they decided to devote an entire season to racing.
Getting behind the wheel was a natural spot for T.J., as his father races and his grandfather also competed on the track. T.J. said watching his dad, who has been racing since 1993, is what made him want to also race. Now Trevor, T.J. and his brother all compete.
When T.J. is not in his black and red drag racing car, he can be found on the football field or the basketball court or on the baseball diamond. Ward said he is impressed how well his son is able to manage his time and receive straight “A”s.
For T.J. balancing it all is simple, because practice makes perfect.