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SAM ARD

Born:
February 14, 1939      Home: Asheboro, NC

Sam Ard is a former NASCAR race car driver and was the champion of NASCAR's Late Model Sportsman Series (the series that would eventually become the Nationwide Series) in 1983 and 1984, was runner-up in 1982, and won a total of 22 races and 24 pole positions in the series during his career. Ard retired after being seriously injured in a crash at the North Carolina Speedway on October 20, 1984.

He made his first and only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start on September 23, 1984 at Bristol. He started 27th in the 31-car field, but lasted just one lap before a steering failure took place.

After retiring as a driver, Ard became an owner, fielding cars for Jimmy Hensley and Jay Fogelman, among others.

He is currently battling Alzheimer's Disease. Sprint Cup driver Kyle Busch donated his race winnings of $100,000 in Nov. 2008 to aid Sam's family with his care and mounting medical expenses.

68 Year Old Busch Champ Sam Ard Injured in ATV Accident    June 25, 2007

Two time Busch Series champ driver Sam Ard was involved in a rollover accident on his ATV last month in Pamplico, S.C. At nearly 70 years old, Ard broke several bones on the left side of his face in the accident where he apparently hit a rut in a bend on the road and crashed into a ditch. He is reported to be in stable condition and is responsive.

I haven't read anything about any safety gear Ard may have been wearing, like a helmet, but judging from the types of injuries, he either crashed really hard, hard enough to crack his helmet, or else he wasn't wearing a helmet at all.

Ard was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2005, and it is unclear whether the effects of that disease had anything to do with the accident.

Speed Reading: Help Ard through hard time by Ryan McGee

Let me tell you about Sam Ard. If you are one of the millions of NASCAR fans that have discovered the sport over the last five years, chances are you've never heard of him. It is time to change that.

Back home, they describe a guy like Ard as "tougher than a locust post," and with good reason. He was born in 1936 in the no man's land of South Carolina that lies between Darlington and Myrtle Beach, the same sandy soil that gave us Cale Yarborough and Frances "The Swamp Fox" Marion, the guy that Mel Gibson was trying to portray in "The Patriot."

As he grew up, Ard manhandled his way though the legendary short tracks of the Carolinas, eventually competing in NASCAR's Late Model Sportsman division. From bullring to bullring, he did battle every Saturday night against men just like himself, leatherskins who worked a 9-to-5 during the week and saved enough money to tow a self-built racecar to the track each weekend. For four decades, the Sportsman division had produced some of the toughest dogs in racing, from Ralph Earnhardt and Ned Jarrett to Harry Gant and Ard.

In 1982, NASCAR moved to better organize its most popular non-Cup division, bringing Anheuser-Busch on board and creating a 29-race schedule that stayed southern-based, but ventured out to Indianapolis and Daytona. The NASCAR Busch Series had been born. Among the racers who participated in that inaugural season were Dale Jarrett, Geoff Bodine, Rick Mast, Morgan Shepherd, Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt.

"I think anyone who was out there in those early days will tell you what was one of the greatest challenges of their entire career," Jarrett says now. "Beating Sam Ard."

The most storied rivalry in NASCAR history is without question Richard Petty-David Pearson. But the sport's most intense showdown was between Ard and a North Carolina mountain man named Jack Ingram. When Ard's #00 Thomas Brothers Country Ham Oldsmobile was tucked in behind Ingram's #11 J.W. Hunt Produce Olds, everyone else just got the hell out of the way.

"I grew up going over to the South Boston Speedway and watching those guys," says Jeff Burton. "And I had never and have never seen anything like it. No offense to Richard Petty or Bobby Allison, but those guys were the ones I followed."

In three years of head-to-head competition, Ingram and Ard won three championships, Ingram one to Ard's two, and whoever didn't win the title finished 2nd behind the other. They combined for 42 wins over those three seasons, Ard winning 22 to Ingram's 20.

"To me, that was racing," Steve Byrnes of NASCAR on FOX has always said. "These guys were working on their own cars, working jobs during the week and every one of them looked like they could break your neck any time they wanted. But when you met them, they were just as nice and as much of a gentleman as you could ever hope to meet."

Unfortunately, the rivalry was cut short on October 20, 1984 when Ard was involved in a horrifying accident at Rockingham, and the resulting injuries forced him to hang up his firesuit. He never strayed too far from the sport, though, coming back as a car owner and winning a few races with Jimmy Hensley and the kid who had been in such awe so many years earlier, Jeff Burton.

His final career stat line has no peer on any level of stock car racing 92 races, 22 wins, 67 top fives and 79 top 10's. He also won 24 poles and his career average finish of 5.5 is bested only by his average start of 3rd. He finished 2nd, 1st and 1st in the standings, his second title coming by more than 400 points despite missing the season finale while in the hospital. His 10 wins in 1983 are still a single-season record as are his 30 top 10's, four races won from the pole and four consecutive wins. From the middle of the '83 season through the next summer, he posted 42 consecutive top-nine finishes.

I met Sam Ard once, and I was scared to death. It was Labor Day weekend 1999, and he was being inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame. It is always a night spent in stock car heaven, walking through a room packed with dozens of living legends. I walked up and introduced myself and congratulated him. He asked where I was from, and I told him Rockingham. In minutes, he was trying to figure out who all I knew that he knew and how much he loved the North Carolina Speedway despite the fact "that it tried to get me."

Now, seven years later, something is trying to get him again... Alzheimer's. He's 66 now, much younger than most who suffer from the advanced stages of the mind-robbing disease. Doctors say Ard's case has likely been accelerated by the brain trauma he endured at The Rock back in '84, a cruel day that just doesn't seem to want to go away. What's more, his beloved wife Jo has fallen victim to a degenerative eye condition that has her steadily marching toward legal blindness. Now the two are leaning on each other, mentally and physically, along with their four children.

This new race for Sam Ard isn't just a physical struggle, it is financial as well. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that it costs about $200,000 to care for someone suffering from the disease. Sam doesn't have that. The record book says he won $378,765 on the racetrack, but in reality, he pocketed about one quarter of that amount, money that has been long gone for decades now. He and Jo live in Florence, S.C., barely squeaking by on Social Security checks and most of his trophies have already been sold for cash.

Now you know why I wanted you to meet Sam Ard. He needs your help.

In the weeks since his Alzheimer's diagnosis, the men who raced with and against Sam have rallied to his cause. This weekend at Richmond, where he won two poles and two races, there is a two-day silent auction being held with all proceeds being put toward his medical costs. Fans can purchase one of dozens of donated pieces of NASCAR memorabilia, from diecasts to driver gloves to a Harley-Davidson owned by league president Mike Helton.

In addition, a fund has been set up in South Carolina to help the Ard family. Checks of any amount can be sent to the following address:

Sam Ard Care Fund
Account # 68212-03  -  Carolina Trust Federal Credit Union
P.O. Box 780004,     Myrtle Beach, SC 29578

This is a crucial time for the sport that we love. A time when the generations who helped build NASCAR into what it is today are starting to drift into the background of the noisy modern marketing machine. If not for Sam Ard, the Busch Series wouldn't be celebrating its 25th season. If not for Sam Ard, the Jeff Burtons, Dale Earnhardts and Dale Jarretts of the world wouldn't be the winners that they eventually became.

Sam needs our help. So let's send it now while he can still appreciate it, and bring back that sweet southern smile while his mind still lets him realize why he's smiling. Let's flood his house with love, support and cash. Let's give his family one less thing to worry about during impossibly difficult times.

Let's let Sam Ard hear one last standing ovation coming down from the grandstand during this, his final lucid victory lap.

Ryan McGee is the managing editor at NASCAR Images and Senior Producer of NASCAR Nation on SPEED Channel. He can be reached at his e-mail address: rmcgee@foxsports.com.

Struggles after NASCAR

NASCAR's earliest stars suffer without pension plan

By JENNA FRYER  |    AP Auto Racing Writer   |   Posted: February 7, 2007

PAMPLICO, S.C. -- The living room of Sam Ard's brown doublewide trailer speaks to his short but successful NASCAR career. Trophies surround the fireplace and crowd its mantel. Plaques and pictures dot the living room walls.

What's not there speaks to Ard's life after NASCAR, the two championship rings and a handful of grandfather clocks from Martinsville Speedway that he sold because "we was running short on cash."

Unlike veterans of other sports, Ard has no pension to fall back on.

As the booming stock-car series built by men such as Sam Ard heads to Daytona International Speedway this week to kick off its 59th season, NASCAR remains the only major-league sport without a pension plan.

"You can drive for NASCAR, but when it's over, it's over. You get nothing," Ard said. "When you fall out of racing or something happens to you, it seems like NASCAR just forgets about you. It's your friends and the people around the race track who have to remember you and keep you going."

Other leagues have pensions. Today's 10-year veterans in baseball will receive a six-figure annual payout beginning at age 62.

Even middle-of-the-road professional golfers can pile up millions under the PGA Tour's deferred-compensation plan, which puts money away for players based on performance.

An NFL player with six seasons between 1998 and 2003 will get about $2,500 a month beginning at age 55, and the NBA has a similar plan. The NHL contributes about $45,000 per year to retirement accounts for veterans. The ATP and WTA tours make annual contributions averaging between $7,500 and $9,500 to retirement accounts for each tennis player.

NASCAR's policy always has been that its drivers are "independent contractors" who bear full responsibility for their finances, health care, retirement and life insurance.

Few in NASCAR are arguing for a fund to help today's drivers, who make millions from team contracts and even more from race purses and merchandise sales. Jeff Gordon, the sport's all-time money leader, has won a record $82,366,716 through 14 full seasons and isn't sure what the responsibility should be.

"We don't want to make NASCAR go broke like some other companies out there with pension plans have done," said the four-time Nextel Cup champion. "We all need to be responsible for our actions."

But if NASCAR wants to argue it rivals other sports in popularity, Gordon said officials shouldn't be surprised when drivers ask for similar benefits.

"We are now competing with the NFL, basketball, the NHL," Gordon said. "And so, should we be compared to them on every level? And when it comes to this subject, there is no comparison. I mean, I don't even think we are on the board."

Old-timers have lobbied for years for some sort of fund to help repay the men, like Ard, who contributed to the sport and now are struggling to make ends meet.

"It would almost cost nothing," said Jack Ingram, the 1985 Busch champion. "It wouldn't be many people that's not wealthy that contributed a lot to this sport, but they're ... destitute. (Ard's) a NASCAR champion; he's living in a trailer house. It shouldn't be that way.

Ard, two-time Busch Series champion, has Alzheimer's. Jo, his wife of 46 years, has a degenerative eye disease that's slowly stealing her sight.

Between Social Security, Sam's veterans benefits and what Jo picks up cleaning houses, the Ards bring in roughly $1,600 a month.

After the mortgage payment of $426.96, car insurance on Ard's 1993 Ford Ranger, utilities, phone and cable, there's only about $123 left. They don't advertise their problems or complain. Even so, individual members of the NASCAR community have stepped up to help.

From the desk near the fireplace Jo Ard pulls out a letter from Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick that circulated through the NASCAR community late last year and recently was forwarded to her. She's a proud woman, so showing it to a stranger isn't easy.

"To All:  Many of you may not be aware that one of NASCAR's pioneers and champion, Sam Ard, is in very poor health and dire straits. ... If it wasn't for men like Sam, none of us would be able to enjoy the lifestyle we live today. We all do charity work and give back to the community, this time it's one of our own."

If Jo Ard had her way, the letter wouldn't exist, and she and her beloved "Sammy" wouldn't need handouts. Although some inside NASCAR -- specifically president Mike Helton and spokesman Jim Hunter -- have given financial assistance on a case-by-case basis, they aren't prepared to fund a pension. "I think the biggest detriment to a pension plan, aside from the fact that they are not NASCAR employees, is trying to decide who would pay for it and what the eligibility factors would be," Hunter said.

"How many years would you go back? To 1948? Or would you start in the 50s? Or the 60s? Or the 70s? There's a lot of issues that would need to be figured out." Tony Stewart, a two-time Cup champion who routinely dips into his own pocket to quietly support the old-timers, believes NASCAR could do more to help. "I'm not going to say they have the responsibility, but it'd sure be nice," Stewart said. Part of the problem is there's no way to gauge how many drivers are in need, or who would be eligible if a plan existed.

The independent-contractor model isn't unique to NASCAR and is followed in almost every form of motorsports. Unlike crew members who work for teams that provide full benefits and 401(k)s, drivers are on their own.

"Those are the rules going in, and we all know it," said two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip. "I don't think you can find any driver that, if you put a NASCAR ride in front of him, would say, 'Wait, this doesn't come with a pension plan? No retirement fund? No insurance? No thanks. I'm not interested.' "No driver in their right mind would walk away."

That includes Ard.Like so many drivers from NASCAR's early days, Ard didn't get rich racing. His three seasons netted $378,765, and Ard got only 25 percent of it. He also was responsible for paying his crew and their food and lodging expenses on the road.

"Them boys don't know what it's all about," Ard said. "Shoot, I used to build my cars, haul 'em to the race track, race 'em, then haul 'em back home. Now all they do is show up and sit in a hauler until it's time to get in the car, then they go out on the race track and make a boatload of money along the way. "I'd like to go racing again like that."

Ard hasn't raced since suffering severe head trauma in a 1984 accident at North Carolina Speedway. He had to learn how to walk and talk and feed himself, and did much of his therapy on an old sawdust pile near the woods behind his house.

"That's where I learned how to walk again, I'd run up and down that sawdust pile because if I fell, it didn't hurt," he said. "I about wore that sawdust pile out." Before the accident, Ard seemingly had the perfect life. A job as a Ford mechanic and a four-year Air Force stint gave him the financial security to quit the 9-to-5 grind and focus strictly on racing.

In his early 40s, he had enough money put away for all four children to attend college and had the talent for a successful NASCAR career. It ended the moment he hit the wall at Rockingham. Race car drivers had a hard time getting insurance back then, and car owner Howard Thomas wasn't on the hook for anything. NASCAR covered all of Ard's medical bills, but he never again had a consistent income.

First, the Ards used the college funds to pay everyday living expenses. Then they went into debt. Ard tried to run his own race team, but with so-so results. "I hear people all the time say Sammy wasn't right, he didn't know what he was doing," Jo Ard said. "Of course he wasn't right. He had major head trauma; his brain was broken. He was never going to be right again."

Now Ard spends most of his days sitting in the recliner next to the front window of his trailer. He watches NASCAR -- Dale Jr. is his favorite -- and spends a lot of time with his beloved dog, Putt-Putt, a fiercely protective mix of boxer and pit bull. Although Ard can remember details from his career -- like beating the late Dale Earnhardt to the finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway while Earnhardt Jr. was at the track celebrating his 9th birthday -- Jo can't send him to the grocery store without an explicit list. Even then, she has to cross her fingers and hope he hasn't forgotten where he put the list.

With a short Busch career and only one Cup start, Sam Ard never was considered one of NASCAR's superstars. But his three seasons as a full-time racer were stellar. He finished second in the 1982 Busch standings and then won consecutive championships in 1983 and 1984. He earned his first title by winning 10 races -- a record that stands today.

Harvick furiously chased Ard's record last season. He fell one win short, but brought attention to Ard's plight in the process. After the Ards wrote NASCAR asking for $24,000 to help pay off their trailer, NASCAR and Richmond International Raceway held an auction that raised $36,000 before taxes ate up a chunk of the money. But Harvick, who has never met Ard but knows about his legacy because his wife, DeLana, grew up rooting for him, couldn't shake the need to do more. So he got together with Earnhardt Jr. to raise money from other drivers. Neither told Ard they were responsible -- even after anonymously dropping "a good amount" of money into the Sam Ard Care Fund. "You look at a lot of these guys who have raced and made our sport what it is today, and they don't have anything," Harvick said. "We are reaping the benefits from their aches and pains, the things that they did several years ago, and it's really not fair to leave them hanging. It just kind of rubs me the wrong way."

A lot of drivers feel a responsibility to the men who came before them and would welcome a system to honor and aid them. "Jack Ingram, Sam Ard, Bobby Allison -- those guys created an excitement about our sport that has made it wonderful, and I think we have to be careful as a generation to make sure we don't forget that," said Jeff Burton. "One of the things that I think should fall on the shoulders of all the current drivers is that we need to leave the sport better than it was when we got here. Because they damn sure did.

SAM ARD WINSTON & BUSCH SERIES DRIVER Statistics

Winston Cup DRIVER Statistics
Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1984 45 1 of 30 0 0 0 0 1 1,100   27.0 31.0
1 year 1 0 0 0 0 1 1,100   27.0 31.0

Busch Series DRIVER Statistics

Year Age Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1982 43 29 of 29 4 20 23 7 3714 64,670 2 2.5 6.4
1983 44 35 of 35 10 23 30 10 6381 140,660 1 3.5 5.8
1984 45 28 of 29 8 24 26 7 5318 173,435 1 3.1 4.2
3 years 92 22 67 79 24 15413 378,765   3.1 5.5

Busch Series OWNER Statistics

Year Driver Races Win T5 T10 Pole Laps Led Earnings Rank AvSt AvFn
1990 Jeff Burton 31 1 3 5 1 5126 154 86,559 15 15.2 18.9
1 year 31 1 3 5 1 5126 154 86,559   15.2 18.9









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