The Polaris family and the snowmobile world is coming to grips with the death of Rick Ward, perhaps the greatest hillclimber in history and one of the best gentlemen on the Western racing circuit.
The longtime Polaris hillclimber, cross-country racer and manager of the company's Western racing program, died Sept. 1 in a motor vehicle accident near his Sugar City, ID, home. He was 47.
Ward's name had become synonymous with the term "King of the Hill." During his long hillclimbing career he won 18 world championships, countless class titles and numerous King of the Hill honors at events throughout the West. He was not only a successful racer but a mentor and inspiration to many younger racers who admired the way he prepared his sleds, the way he rode and the way he graciously accepted the outcome.
Win or lose-and it was most often "win"-he was a sportsman. He celebrated victory with dignity and was always ready to congratulate competitors.
"This is a tragic loss of a great friend and an amazingly talented snowmobile racer," Polaris Racing Manager Tom Rager, Sr. said. "He was a tremendous asset to our racing program and he set an outstanding example, particularly for Western racers."
Scott Swenson, vice president of the Polaris Snowmobile and PG&A Division, said the entire Polaris family of employees, dealers and snowmobilers is saddened by Ward's death. "Rick was a tremendous hillclimber and a great leader for our Western program," Swenson said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife Michelle, their three children and his entire family."
Ward, who made his living as a farmer, was a multi-time winner at the Jackson Hole World Championship Snowmobile Hillclimb and was a fixture in the Rocky Mountain Snowmobile Hillclimb Association. He raced exclusively on Polaris snowmobiles and in recent years served as the manager of the company's Western racing program, with a focus on hillclimbs.
As recently as 2007, Ward was still winning titles at Jackson Hole. That year he added to his legendary Jackson Hole resume, winning three classes and leading the Polaris racers as they won a dominating 45 percent of all classes at the event.
In 2006, Ward won Stock King of the Hill honors at Jackson Hole after winning the Pro Masters Stock and Pro 600 Stock classes.
Ward was extremely talented at building hillclimb sleds and he had extraordinary riding skills that helped him optimize the sled's performance regardless of the conditions on race day. When Polaris racers traveled west for events such as the Winter X Games or snocross racing at West Yellowstone, MT, Ward helped them tune their engines to perform at high altitude.
Each year when new Polaris Deep Snow sleds were developed, Ward dissected them to learn how they could best be set up for hillclimbs and he shared that information with western Polaris racers.