Two-time NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Sam Ard passed away Sunday, April 2. The Asheboro, North Carolina, native was 78.
Ard had compiled an impressive record in the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman Series before that circuit was retooled and renamed in 1982. In the series that today is known as the XFINITY Series, Ard scored 22 victories and won titles in 1983 and '84.
"For many years, Sam Ard's persona was that of a tough-as-nails racer," NASCAR said in a statement. "No matter the track or the competition, he battled to the end. That fighter's mentality lasted throughout his life, and far beyond the confines of a race car. Sam battled on and off the track with the same ferocity that earned him two championships in what is today the NASCAR XFINITY Series as well as countless victories in the Late Model Sportsman Series. NASCAR extends its deepest condolences to Sam's family and friends. He will be dearly missed, and his memory cherished."
Ard's career was cut short due to injuries sustained in a crash at North Carolina Motor Speedway (Rockingham) in October of 1984. Just 14 laps into the Komfort Koach 200, the engine in Ard's entry blew in Turn 3 and ignited a six-car crash. He was transported to a local hospital where he was diagnosed with a dislocated right shoulder and head injuries.
In June the following year Ard announced his retirement from NASCAR, although he competed in three more local Late Model shows, the first of which he was flagged the winner.
His 22 wins, in the No. 00 Oldsmobile fielded by owner Howard Thomas, came in just 92 career starts and left him with an incredible 5.5 average finishing position.
His 10 wins in 1983 stood as the series record for single-season wins until Kyle Busch tied the mark in 2008. In 2010, Busch set the series record with 13 victories.
Ard's streak of four consecutive victories in 1983 remains the series record and his three consecutive poles is tied for second.
Kevin Harvick, the 2014 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, won two titles and has 46 victories in the XFINITY Series. In 2006, he won nine times, nearly tying Ard's mark.
"I know my wife (DeLana) is happy about that," Harvick said at the time. "She's a huge Sam Ard fan.
"A lot of people don't understand how hard those people raced and how much different it was then than it is now. In one way, you want to win every race you can, but in another sense, it kind of leaves that early part of the … series untouched. I think that's kind of neat because of the heritage and what those guys did. Sometimes a lot of new fans and new drivers don't respect what those guys did to get our sport to where it is right now."
After his driving career ended, Ard spent six years as a car owner, scoring two wins with Jimmy Hensley and one with Jeff Burton. All three victories came at Martinsville Speedway. Burton's victory was his first in the XFINITY Series.