VAIL — Buddy Lazier smiles as he looks at his adorable 12-year-old daughter. She is the reason he is making a run as his 18th Indianapolis 500, he says.
That, and because he’s great at it and it’s fun.
It’s the second consecutive year the family-organized team is entered in the greatest spectacle in racing and Buddy’s 18th Indy start.
Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2000 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, will drive the No. 91 University of Iowa Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone car.
It’s personal because Jacqueline Lazier, Buddy’s and Kara’s 12-year-old daughter, was born with a rare eye disorder called aniridia, It is a complete or partial absence of the colored part of the eye (the iris) and 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.
More than racing
Of course they want to win, and they can be competitive, said Bob Lazier, Buddy’s dad and a 1981 Indy racer. But it’s also about great causes, and it’s personal.
“The team has a purpose, and that’s so important. It’s more than just trying to win a race or two,” Bob said. “Our support of the University of Iowa’s Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research is personal to our family and right in line with the goals and purpose of our team. We want to win on the track, and we want to help people achieve their goals every day off the track.”
Besides his 1996 win, Buddy has finished second twice (1998 and 2000), fourth (1997) and fifth (2005).
A ski day done well
Lazier Partners Racing’s new sponsorship deal stretches five years, and Buddy will drive all five races.
Lazier Partners Racing was formed last winter during a “what if” brainstorming session in Vail with friends. They actually did part of it while skiing — proof yet again that any meeting of the minds can be accomplished during a 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.
He had the fewest number of practice laps of any driver in the 2013 field. He qualified with a four-lap average speed of 223.442 mph, and started 32nd. He lasted 44 laps and finished 31st, forced from the race by 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.
They’ve been preparing for a year, and they’re ready, Buddy said.
“With Chevrolet power and augmented by corporate support from Phillips Energy Partners and Herman Miller, I am confident we’ll have a competitive program in 2014,” Buddy said.
It helps that they have more Indy time than almost any other team.
“He’s so good at Indy. He has so much time on that track,” Bob said, talking like the proud dad he should be. “I estimate he has about 75,000 miles at that place.”
Buddy tests for engine companies and tire companies — just about anyone who needs him to stomp the throttle and turn left.
That’s an advantage since rule changes and expenses have made every car pretty much the same.
A Dallara chassis is fitted with either a Chevy or Honda engine. Lazier Racing will be powered by Chevy, because it’s fast and because they’ve been running and testing Chevy engines for years.
But their car is an Indy-only car with between 1,500 and 2,000 miles on it. The rest of the cars will arrive in Indy after having run several races, an they’ll have up to 50,000 miles on them.
“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 of where we were last year.”
Buddy qualified for last year’s Indy event after doing a dozen or two practice laps, hardly enough to get the tires warm.
This year they leave for Indy on May 7 and will be there through May 28.
“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.