Lazier returns to Indy 500 today
97th Indianapolis 500
Sunday May 26
Prerace broadcast: 10 a.m., ABC
Race begins: 11 a.m., ABC
VAIL — When Buddy Lazier was 19 he was the youngest rookie in the Indianapolis 500 by seven years.
In 1981 Buddy’s dad, Bob Lazier, was the oldest rookie in the field.
Today, when Buddy runs his 17th Indy 500 he may be the happiest driver in the field. At 45 years old, he’ll be the oldest. He has more competition laps than anyone in Indy 500 history, which is why he and the team could pull this off.
All that experience creates perspective and they’ve needed every bit of it this week.
“It’s the largest single day sporting event in the world,” Lazier said.
These are the basic facts: The eight folks with Lazier Racing Partners snapped up a used car, wedged a leased Chevy racing engine into it and will have only about 77 laps of practice before the green flag drops today.
Buddy’s perspective on all that? He’s one of the luckiest guys in this spiral arm of the universe.
“I’ve been so proud of this small team,” Buddy said. “We were starting from scratch on Friday against all the best racing teams in the world. We stacked the deck against ourselves, but we’re in the race.”
He says his chances of winning aren’t great. Las Vegas odds put his chances of winning at 250-1, and 75-1 to finish in the top three.
“But you never know!” he said.
What he does know is that this won’t be his last 500. The rules won’t change for years, he said, so the car should last as long as he does – five or six more years.
“That would be a great way to finish my career,” he said. “I’ve had 17 reasonably successful years at Indy, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them. They’re all different.”
But before all that, there’s today’s race.
They’re a one-car team, so asking for parts or advice from another team member isn’t a possibility. In fact, they know how lucky they are to have that one car.
Buddy’s buddy, Jason Peters, was part owner of a Lotus that ran poorly in last year’s Indy.
Buddy was skiing with some investors in Vail last March, and on the lift rides up they talked about how there was this one race car left, Peter’s Lotus.
“It fell off the radar because it was slow. But it wasn’t the car’s fault, it was the engine,” Buddy said.
His friends bought the car before he knew about it. They leased a Chevy racing engine and headed for Gasoline Alley. Crew chief Dennis LaCava waved wrenches like so many magic wands and somehow it all came together.
“It’s incredible that it’s come together so well and so fast,” Buddy said.
It’s not uncommon for a large team to spend $80,000 to $100,000 just on tires. Lazier Partners is looking for one more partner, Buddy said. Advanced Auto Parts came on board and by the time the green flag drops Lazier’s No. 91 car will be Advanced Auto red, white and blue.
Buddy was born and raised in Vail. Bob and his wife were in Vail, Halloween morning 1967, and they realized it was time. Bob was doing some of his best driving as Buddy was born on the two-lane highway between Denver and Vail.
“Every time I go racing, I’m reminded how lucky we are to live where we live. It’s such a wonderful place,” Buddy said.
Before last week he hadn’t been in a race car in five years. He didn’t have to get ready because he stayed ready.
“The lifestyle in Vail is good for you,” Buddy said.
If you finish the race you make 800 left turns. If you win you make 801, with that final left into Victory Lane where Lazier stopped when he won in 1996.
Driving race cars is an anaerobic exercise. During the Indy 500 drivers lose up to seven pounds in two hours. Their heart rates go through the roof and stays there.
“As a driver it takes everything you’ve got. Your body is crushed by the force,” Buddy said.
Buddy and Kara have two kids attending Vail Mountain School, where Buddy graduated from in 1986. They might follow Buddy into the family business, just like Buddy followed Bob.
Their son and daughter are both championship racing kart drivers. There’s an Old School Formula V open wheel racer in the parking garage of the Tivoli Lodge in Vail, which the family built and still operates.
“Our family connection to racing is strong,” Buddy said. “The kids used to travel with me when I was out there full time. They grew up in this. A lot of the other drivers and crew members are like family to them,” Buddy said.
The kids didn’t get to attend last weekend’s qualifying. It was too intense, too focused.
“Plus they had to finish their exams,” Buddy said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935, and firstname.lastname@example.org