25 years ago, Vail native Buddy Lazier wins Indianapolis 500
Reminiscing on local’s win as 105th event gets underway Sunday
As the engines rev Sunday at the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500, Buddy Lazier says the 80th annual event feels like it was yesterday.
Lazier, a Vail native, claimed victory at the 1996 event during what he called the luckiest year of his life. Nine weeks earlier, he had shattered his spine in a horrifying accident which left him lucky to be alive and walking. Five weeks later, he was in Vail’s Back Bowls on Closing Day, proposing to his wife, Kara. She said “yes,” and a month after that Lazier went on to win the most coveted prize in IndyCar racing.
“It was one hell of a month,” Lazier said on Thursday. “I still can’t believe it.”
But amid the 25th anniversary reminiscing, this year is also painful as the memory of Buddy’s father, Bob Lazier, looms large in the family. Bob died in April 2020, one of the first COVID-19 causalities which alerted Vail residents to the seriousness of the pandemic.
“It was so hard on us as a family,” Lazier said.
The family did, however, take comfort in knowing Bob’s last moments were enjoyable for him. While he was in his hospital bed in Denver, the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron was performing aerial maneuvers in an area visible from his window.
“On the day that he was passing, they propped up his bed, opened up the window, and then they did a bunch of stunts and stuff right out in front of his window,” Buddy said. “I was just in tears thinking about how neat that must have been for him … because he was really into high performance aircraft.”
But high performance aircraft was only one of Bob Lazier’s many passions. He was, most notably, an IndyCar driver himself, competing in the 1981 Indianapolis 500. And while Bob Lazier instilled in the Lazier family the enthusiasm for racing, the family’s enthusiasm for skiing is also a product of Bob’s passion.
“The two seasons (skiing and race car driving) have complimented themselves really well for us over the years,” Buddy said. “You’re in the midst of the winter season while the IndyCar stuff is all shut down, and then you roll into the summer and the skis are all put away for the season, and the race cars are out running.”
In 1986, Bob Lazier told the Vail Trail how Buddy got his start.
As a young child, “He made me promise him that I’d let him drive the race car when he turned 16,” Bob Lazier said. “He held me to it.”
Bob Lazier told the Vail Trail that in his own Indianapolis 500 appearance in 1981, he was driving a car that was not mechanically safe.
“The shaft kept breaking and the car would veer to the left or the right very quickly,” he said.
Fifteen years later, the Laziers said they knew, during the 1996 season, that they had a car that could win.
“Getting in the Ron Hemelgarn car with the Delta Faucets, that was the first time I felt I had a car that I could win the race with,” Buddy said. “You used to know who was going to win the race before the race even started back in those days, because the equipment was so much better on a handful of teams than it was for the rest of the field.”
Using the inherited knowledge from his father’s experiences, Lazier rode to victory at the young age of 28, and continued with the sport for many years.
“We always considered it a huge blessing that we could share these sports with each other,” Buddy said. “Often you have families that don’t have the same interests, so it was really a gift to be able to do these things together, not only with two generations, but with three.”
With Kara’s family name as his namesake, Buddy and Kara’s son Flinn Lazier is now a race car driver, competing in events like the Indy Lights. Flinn won the Formula Atlantic championship in 2019.
“Without COVID, I think he’d be in a really great place right now, because he had a huge amount of momentum behind him,” Buddy said of Flinn. “They canceled the Indy Lights season and he lost some sponsors.”
As his 21-year-old son fights challenges in returning to racing, Buddy says at 53, he himself might not be out of it just yet, either. He last drove in an Indianapolis 500 event five years ago, in 2016.
“I have the strangest feeling that I’m not done driving race cars yet,” he said.