Brandon Ward has long carried a reputation of being one of the most versatile competitors in the southeast.
From the moment he took his first national checkered flag in a NASCAR Goody‘s Dash Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2001, Ward has figured out how to win in nearly every type of car in which he has competed. This includes Late Model Stocks, the USAR Pro Cup Series and Modifieds.
On Saturday night, Ward obtained one of the most noteworthy accomplishments in southern Modified competition by adding his name to the prestigious list of track champions at Bowman Gray Stadium that includes Tim Brown, Burt Myers, Junior Miller and many more.
A Winston-Salem, North Carolina native, Ward had long been familiar with the lore surrounding summer Saturday nights at Bowman Gray. His championship campaign from 2023 now has him permanently intertwined with the track‘s storied history.
“Any championship you can win is always a big honor not only for yourself, but your entire team,” Ward said. “The track is in my hometown, but I spent a lot of years not even racing there because I was traveling with different touring series. To win a championship there is such a big accomplishment for me.”
Despite having plenty of experience on his side when he first started racing at Bowman Gray a decade ago, nothing could have prepared Ward for what the Madhouse provided.
Bowman Gray‘s flat, quarter-mile layout frequently forces drivers to abandon traditional race craft for more aggressive, on-track tactics. Different formats ranging from 25 lap sprints to 200-lap endurance features only further emphasize the importance of finding great track position to gain as many points as possible.
Previously competing in different touring divisions gave Ward an advantage in the longer Bowman Gray events, but the shorter races required a brief adjustment period. It did not take long for Ward to get acclimated to Bowman Gray‘s electric environment, and he gradually became a favorite for wins in the Modified division.
A stellar 2022 season gave Ward and New Day Motorsports plenty of optimism about grabbing their first title this year, but everyone within the organization knew it would take more than just winning races to accomplish that goal.
“To race for a championship, you have to complete every lap and be consistent,” Ward said. “In the past, we could win some races [at Bowman Gray], but we also fell out of some races over there. In 2019, we won four races but were barely top five in points. We‘ve made an honest effort to chase points the past couple of seasons, and it‘s been a good effort.
“We fell a little bit short last year and that was motivation going into this year.”
After falling to fifth in the standings during the second half of the year, Ward accumulated five consecutive top-five finishes to rapidly close the gap on the points leader Brown heading into the season finale.
The Monday leading up to the finale saw Ward deliberate with co-owners Jeff Day and Kevin Powell about how to approach everything. Powell said there was plenty of confidence prevalent in the speed of their No. Q104 Modified, but he knew circumstances outside of their control could easily curtail any championship hopes.
“Historically we‘re very good in the long races, so we thought we had a good chance of winning,” Powell said. “But we were also warned there could be some extra dynamics going on with some people who might want to wreck our car and take shots at Brandon. That‘s part of the show at Bowman Gray that might cost us the championship.
“It was a little bit nerve-wracking, but it was also the calmest I had ever been watching a race at Bowman Gray. I knew we were going to be OK.”
Powell‘s optimism did not betray him. After J.R. Snow intentionally damaged Brown‘s car following an on-track incident between them, all Ward had to do was maintain second behind Myers to secure the illustrious Bowman Gray Modified championship.
Ward was disappointed to see a great fight between him and Brown get settled by another driver seeking revenge. He added the 11-time track champion has always raced him fairly since his first race at Bowman Gray, and that it was honor to best one of the facility‘s greatest drivers for his first title.
Aside from Ward, Danny Bohn is the only other driver without the last name of Brown, Myers or Miller to earn a Bowman Gray track championship since 1996. It took Ward more than a decade just to get one title, but his grueling quest helped him gain more appreciation for everything those three sacrificed to enjoy so much success.
“Being a champion at Bowman Gray means so much,” Ward said. “There‘s not a lot of people who have done it, so you have true respect for what Tim [Brown] and Burt [Myers] have done for the last 20 years. It‘s not easy over there, and it makes you realize just how tough everything is, even for those two.”
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For Powell, Ward finally being able to hoist a Bowman Gray championship trophy served as a culmination of not only a season-long goal, but one that started when Ward initially teamed up with him and Day many years ago.
A broken scapula for Powell is what led to Ward making his first Bowman Gray Modified appearance. Since then, New Day Motorsports has become a household name at the facility, with Ward and Powell having developed a close bond that extends far beyond race weekends.
Powell is proud of everything New Day Motorsports has accomplished and hopes their 2023 championship is the first of many to come.
“I picked Brandon to drive my car because he‘s a great driver and he exhibits the same type of characteristics I do as a person,” Powell said. “There are a lot of famous names at Bowman Gray we could have tapped, but Brandon was an unknown at Bowman Gray, and the way he handled himself outside of the car spoke volumes to me.
“I love him just like he‘s my own, and he honestly feels like my adopted son. I can‘t see us doing anything outside of what we‘re currently doing.”
Earning a Bowman Gray track title was Ward‘s first championship of any kind since grabbing a UARA STARS Late Model Series crown in 2006. He plans to cherish his accomplishment for as long as he can while he chases more victories around the southeast to close out the year.
When April comes around, for Ward, it will be right back to focusing on Bowman Gray. He who believes he and New Day Motorsports can build off the momentum from the end of 2023 and claim another championship.
“I wish we could have started the year off where we‘re at now,” Ward said. “There were so many new things that happened at New Day Motorsports this year with us having a two-car team, building two new cars and bringing in new people. This was going to be a rebuilding year, so to come out the first year with a title after so much restructuring was amazing.
“Going into next year, we‘re going to be even further ahead than where we were starting out this year.”
Ward knows the Bowman Gray legends like Brown and Myers are going to be chasing him in 2024 with the goal of adding on to their own legacies. With an organization like New Day Motorsports behind him, Ward is confident he can keep adding on to his own.