VAIL — Buddy Lazier is such a hometown guy he has a Vail Mountain School sticker on his Indy car and a Colorado flag on his helmet.
Lazier will race in his 17th Indianapolis 500 this weekend, his first since 2008. He won it in 1996.
“I’m thrilled,” Buddy told Sports Illustrated Racing. “We’re a small team that has not had the time on the track, and that was a big challenge.”
Local boy goes fast!
The Lazier Clan has been in Vail since there was a Vail. They built the Wedel Inn and later the Tivoli Lodge, which they still own and operate. Buddy graduated Vail Mountain School in 1986. His and and his wife Kara’s children go there now.
Buddy and his father, Bob, who raced at Indy in 1981, and long-time friend Jason Peters were sitting around in Vail one day last winter. They began to chafe at the idea that they might still be sitting around Vail in May, during the Indianapolis 500, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
If you’re Buddy and Bob Lazier, spectacles are for racing in, not for watching.
Bob is not a wait-for-life-to-come-to-you kind of guy. About six months ago he formed their own Gang of Eight, the eight people in Lazier Partners, and started plotting Buddy’s return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Bob’s the kind of guy who, if he sees a five-ton weight that that needs to be moved, he’ll say, ‘Let’s just get it up in the back of that truck. We can figure this out. We can do this!” Peters said.
A great deal on a good used car
Beside his 1996 win, Buddy was second in 1998 and 2000, fourth in 1997, fifth in 2005 and seventh in 1999. He qualified 14 straight years for the Indy, 1995-2008 and has more competition laps at the Indy than anyone in Speedway history.
Buddy put some of that experience to work last year with Peters, as a driver coach for Formula 1 driver Jean Alesi. Peters was part-owner of Alesi’s team. Alesi came out of retirement last year to race their Lotus at the Indy.
Peters, by the way, lives in East Vail.
Lotus makes a dandy chassis, but their engines couldn’t break wind, let alone run at Indy. Alesi qualified last, ran nine laps, dropped out and Lotus abandoned Indy racing at the end of last season.
Which brings our story back around to Peters and Buddy and that day last winter in Vail, when Bob mentioned he wanted to buy a car.
Peters happened to know where they could get a good used Lotus. Peters helped hammer out a smokin’ deal on the car, and Lazier Partners grabbed it. They leased an engine from Chevy and put together a team under crew chief Dennis LaCava, who Peters says is a motorized magician.
“Chevy has been dominant this year. They have the pole and are powering most of the front runners,” Peters said.
They didn’t even get on the track to practice until Thursday. Most of their practice was Friday and qualifying started the next day. Buddy’s qualifying turn didn’t come until Sunday, the final day.
“It was impressive watching these guys work,” Peters said. “They’ve put in thousands of hours.”
Buddy was just supposed to make sure everything was going in the same direction, important stuff when you’re rolling at more than 200 mph with your butt a few inches off the ground. He took a few laps and dropped the hammer, hitting one lap in 225.167 seconds.
“It’s amazing to watch him. He gets in it and goes,” Peters said.
By the time his qualifying turn came up Sunday, he’d run 35 laps. Tourists take more than that on Speedway tours.
Speaking of tourists, Peters’ first trip to the Speedway was August 1996 as a tourist. The first picture he saw was Buddy’s on the Speedway museum wall, hung there after winning the 500.
“The Laziers are almost like family to me now,” Peters said. “Being here in this role for a second time I keep asking myself, ‘How did this happen?’”
Peters is one of the partners on the team side. He’d been working the past few years to put some deals together for Buddy. So far this year, sponsors include Peak Oil and Antifreeze, Advanced Auto and Phillips Energy. Feel free to contact Peters and buy some space on their race car.
Buddy, 45, is the oldest driver in this year’s race. His four-lap qualifying average hit 223.442 seconds, and that puts him safely in the field, 32nd in the field of 33 cars.
The crew spent all week tweaking the car, looking for more speed. They’ll be back on the track Friday, Carburation Day, for a two-hour session.
“I haven’t dared to think about winning,” Lazier said, “but who knows? Our chances are not good, but strange things happen.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.