VAIL — The years have flashed past like an Indy car since Buddy Lazier was the youngest driver in the Indianapolis 500 at 21 years old in 1991.
When the green flag drops Sunday he’ll be the oldest, 46.
With time comes perspective, and Buddy’s bemused. When he was young, team owners told him Indy cars were too expensive to be trusted to one so young.
“Get some experience,” he said they told him.
So he did. Sunday’s race is Buddy’s 18th Indy 500.
Now at 46, he laughs that owners now want younger drivers.
He’s had some great moments: Driving to his 1996 win, his back was so badly injured his crew practically had to strap him up like Hannibal Lecter to get him in the car. In 2000, he and Juan Pablo Montoya waged a Titanic battle. Lazier was the only one close to Montoya, finishing second.
In those 25 breathless years, all kinds of life has happened. He’s married to the beautiful Kara and they have two kids. Flinn, 15, is a rising star race driver who Buddy says already drives as well as he does, as any proud father would. Twelve-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, is where Buddy’s story takes a different turn than the other 33 drivers in the field.
Jacqueline was born with Anaridia, a rare eye disorder that’s a complete or partial absence of the iris. Aniridia can cause reduction in visual acuity (sharpness) and increased sensitivity to light.
In Jacqueline’s case, the Aniridia combined with glaucoma to cost her the vision in her right eye.
And that’s why Lazier will drive the No. 91 University of Iowa Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone car. Doctors at The Wynn Institute are using cutting edge medical practices and technology to help Jacqueline.
“This team has a purpose, and that’s so important,” said Bob Lazier, Buddy’s dad and the patriarch of Lazier Partners Racing. “Our support of the University of Iowa’s Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research is personal to our family.”
Skiing to racing
Bob estimates that Buddy has logged 75,000 miles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, more than almost anyone. He tests engines, tires and drives for just about anyone who needs him to stomp the throttle and turn left.
It’s an advantage, and he needed it this year.
His family owns and runs one of Vail’s premier hotels, the Tivoli Lodge. They had a busy ski season, but at the same time were trying to put together their Indy team.
“To come out of the ski season and into the racing season is a tall order,” Buddy said. “When other people in Vail are enjoying a slowdown during the offseason, we plunge straight into the racing season. We all work very hard to make it all happen, to go from one season to another.”
They cultivated sponsors all winter, but didn’t nail them down until late in the game. They returned to racing this spring to find that a shortage of good racing mechanics and engineers was hampering many teams, not just theirs, and no one has ever seen anything quite like it.
Indy crews can work about six months a year, then tend to be laid off. It can be tough on families and many left racing for other careers, Buddy said.
Buddy’s crew is a mix of veterans and members of his group, led by new engineer David Cripps, formerly of Panther Racing, so he’s in good hands.
“We’re one of the smaller teams this year. But things are changing. It’s coming together,” Buddy said.
A ski day done well
Lazier Partners Racing was born one winter ski day in 2013 during a “what if” brainstorming session with friends in Vail. They actually did part of it while skiing, proof yet again that anything can be accomplished during a 20 minute lift ride.
They decided they had nothing to lose, so they pulled together a team. It was a last minute affair, which was both wonderful and terrible.
Buddy had fewer practice laps than any driver in the 2013 field, but he qualified for this past year’s Indy event after doing a dozen or so practice laps, hardly enough to get the tires warmed up.
In 2013, he started 32nd and lasted 44 laps finishing 31st, forced out of the race with a mechanical problem.
Bob, and Buddy’s brother, Jaques, are also both veterans of the Indianapolis 500. Bob made the race in 1981. Jaques has six Indy 500 starts.
Rule changes and expenses have made every car pretty much the same. For most Indy cars, a Dallara chassis is fitted with either a Chevy or Honda engine. Lazier Racing will be powered by Chevy.
“A lot of it’s driver, a lot of it’s crew and engineering. But the more you run the car, the more the engineers understand what’s going on, what changes need to be made, how to coax just a little more out of it,” Bob said.
Their car runs only at Indy and has been driven about 1,500 miles. The rest of the cars will arrive in Indy after having run several races, and they’ll have up to 50,000 miles on them, Bob said.
“Last year, we started so late that we weren’t able to make some of those small, last minute improvements,” Bob said. “The car has been ready. We’re way ahead or where we were last year.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.