cutting skills . “ By now , I was at college at NC State and I had access to the internet , which was brand-new back then , and I found Michael Beard ’ s Staging Light website . Beard and I are close to the same age and we actually became friends over the internet . I hadn ’ t even met the guy yet , but we ’ d email each other .”
Over the winter of 1995 , Ward studied all the information he could about bracket racing on the Staging Light website and spent considerable time playing with the practice tree . Then , when the 1996 season at VMP started , Ward was ready to do business ... and do business he did ! “ I went out and won the season-opening bracket race – which was only my second race ever ! I won $ 350 and I thought , ‘ Man , this is easy ... I ’ m gonna make tons of money doing this !’ Of course , a couple months later I was going broke !” he laughs .
He credits Michael Beard ’ s insight for helping him get his first win in only his second attempt . “ I used a technique I learned from Beard ’ s website in the final round that day ,” Ward remembers . “ The other guy had the faster car and he was way out on me and never took his foot off the gas , so I lifted and coasted through and the other guy broke out !” Ward admits that his earliest thoughts about Beard and his website were wondering why in the world this guy was giving away all this great information !
Regardless , bracket racing can be a cruel dance partner , and Ward would win some money , then race it away , and so on and so forth , having a blast every step of the way . It was also in the mid- 1990s that his current 1969 Camaro entered the picture , although he still owns his first car to this day . The latter vehicle was owned by a friend who used to drive it on the street , but it sat outside for a few years . Ward ’ s dad bought the car , which was basically a shell that he and Matt planned to restore .
Then came the opportunity to buy a 1968 SS Camaro , which they also promptly jumped on . “ So then we had two Camaros that weren ’ t fixed !” Ward laughs . Eventually , they divided them up and each took the Camaro they wanted for themselves , and Matt has done a whole lot of winning with his ‘ 69 .
It took a while before he finally got the car restored , as it was still a shell and he did much of the work himself , including building some of the car ’ s suspension parts and most of the roll cage . “ I love doing metal fabrication . I have a small milling machine and a small lathe , and I do some TIG welding .”
The car is equipped with a Powerglide transmission and a 420-cubic-inch small-block , built by his father-in-law , Wayne Allen , who raced Top Sportsman in the 1990s . After the car was finished , Ward promptly placed runner-up at Brainerd Motorsports Park in Georgia on his very first outing with it , then won a race at Paradise Dragway ( also in Georgia ) shortly thereafter .
Ward eventually took a job with Sealed Air
Corporation , the protective packaging company that invented Bubble Wrap , which then led him to relocate outside Atlanta before ultimately settling in South Carolina , where he currently resides .
He did a ton of racing at Atlanta Dragway years ago and has a total of 18 race win stickers on the rear glass of the Camaro from victories at Atlanta alone . In 2018 , he won the track championship at Atlanta and ended the season on a high note by winning the Bracket Finals at Silver Dollar Raceway .
“ That was the same year my oldest daughter , Ava , started racing in Jr . Dragster . She actually won the 11-year-old category at the Eastern Conference Finals last year ,” Ward says .
It wasn ’ t long before Ava ’ s younger sister , Kate , also had a Jr . Dragster of her own . Amazingly , Kate won a track championship this year alongside her dad at Carolina Dragway after clinching the Novice Jr . Dragster championship .
But wait ... there ’ s still more : Ava finished second in Intermediate Jr . Dragster ... and this was after missing an event to attend cheerleader camp !
“ The only one who doesn ’ t race in our family is my wife , Crystal ,” Ward says . “ She has no interest in doing it , but once she started coming to the track , she made some great friendships very quickly .”
Somewhere in the midst of racing , working , and raising a family , Matt and Crystal began a spiritual journey roughly at the same time . They became Christians and were baptized on the same day . Soon after , Matt felt convicted to give a brief word of testimony during a chapel service at an NMCA race in Atlanta , so he asked the chaplain if he could speak for a couple minutes . The chaplain had another idea entirely , turning the entire service over to Ward !
One thing led to another and the call to become more involved in ministry became clearer . “ It ’ s not something I wanted to do ; it ’ s something I felt led to do . It ’ s still not easy for me to get up in front of a crowd ,” Ward insists .
It ’ s a lot of responsibility , but he says he feels convicted about doing it . Ward became an RFC Chaplain around six years ago , and he ministers at the track , delivering practical messages from the Bible on a regular basis .
When Atlanta Dragway closed at the conclusion of the 2021 season , Ward began racing at Rockingham Dragway on a more regular basis . “ We ’ ve had a ball coming up here to Rockingham . It ’ s been so much fun .”
He always has a scripture verse written on the back glass of his Camaro , most recently from Psalms 55:22 , which speaks about casting your burdens on the Lord and He will sustain you . “ It ’ s such a family out here at the track , and I ’ ve always thought that the people are what ’ s best of all about drag racing ,” he smiles .
So , with his Bible at the ready and some consistent race cars in the hauler , Matt Ward and his talented racing daughters are anxious as ever to rejoin their racing family for another season of tire smoke and fellowship . DI
74 | Drag Illustrated | DragIllustrated . com Issue 180