Byrd Racing: Through the Years

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Byrd Racing’s Jonathan Byrd II and Ginny Byrd in 2015

The influx of teams to enter the Verizon IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy in 2018 has seen many welcome additons, as well as some very happy returns. One case of the latter has been the reemergence of Byrd Racing.

Last month, Byrd Racing announced that they would align themselves with Indy Lights’ Belardi Auto Racing, as well as Baldwin Brothers Racing. The announced partnership would sprint car driver Chris Windom in the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 25.

Friday, Byrd Racing announced a collaboration with A.J. Foyt Racing, as well as Belardi Auto Racing and Hollinger Motrsport. The team will field James Davison in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 on May 27. After a year away, Byrd racing is back at Indianapolis, looking to continue on a history of success in the race.

Rich Vogler with Byrd Racing in 1985-the team’s first Indianapolis 500

The Byrd family’s history with IndyCar dates back to 1985. The team and Patrick Racing fielded sprint car ace Rich Vogler in the 1985 Indianapolis 500, where Vogler started 33rd and finished 23rd.

Vogler would continue driving for Byrd and its partners at Indy the next four years, posting a best finish of 8th in 1989.

Byrd Racing and Vogler joined Frank Arciero’s team in 1990, but would be bumped from the field. Vogler was killed in a sprint car crash in July of that year.

The team would race with two-time 500 winner Gordon Johncock and veteran driver Stan Fox, as well as rookie Buddy Lazier in 1991.  The three-car effort was part of a continued an alliance with Hemelgarn Racing, who helped field Byrd Racing’s 1987 effort. Lazier crashed on the first lap of the race and finished 33rd, but Johncock and Fox finished sixth and eighth, both running at the finish.

Fox returned to the team the following season, starting 13th and finishing 27th after a Lap 67 crash.

Scott Brayton would drive in a joint effort with Dick Simon Racing in 1993, finishing sixth. In 1994, Byrd Racing returned to the speedway, this time with A.J. Foyt Enterprises and driver John Andretti.

Byrd Racing was a co-owner for John Andretti’s Indianapolis 500 efforts when he drove the Memorial Day Double in 1994

The entry would be part of a history-making effort. After finishing tenth in the race, Andretti flew to Charlotte and ran in the NASCAR Winston Cup’s Coca-Cola 600 that night, where he finished 36th.

The second-generation racer became the first driver ever to attempt both events on the same day.

Partnering with Dick Simon Racing again, Byrd Racing’s 1995 driver Davy Jones attempted to duplicate Andretti’s efforts of the “Memorial Day Double”.

Ultimately, his attempt proved unsuccessful, failing to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600. Jones did run the Indianapolis 500, finishing 23rd after a crash on Lap 163.

The infamous CART-IRL “Split” did not keep the team away from the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. In 1996, the team began a partnership with Treadway Racing.

Two months removed from a win at Phoenix with Arie Luyendyk, the team reached new heights in the Month of May. The 1990 winner would initially qualify second, but his time was disallowed.

A day later, Luyendyk destroyed the one- and four-lap qualifying records at Indianapolis. After working their way up from their 20th starting spot, the team’s day was derailed by contact with Eliseo Salazar exiting the pits on Lap 98. Luyendyk finished 16th.

As the team joined forces with Cunningham Racing, Mike Groff would take over the ride the following season.  The veteran racer notched a career-best runner-up finish at Walt Disney World Speedway in 1997, as well as a 10th and 15th at the 1997 and 1998 Indianapolis 500s. Groff would be replaced later in 1998 by John Paul Jr.

Paul Jr. scored a victory in September of 1998 at Texas. The next two years, the team would fail to qualify a car at Indianapolis. The team would make the field in 2001 with driver Jacques Lazier, finishing 22nd after starting 17th.

Team founder Jonathan Byrd suffered a stroke in 2004, but his sons formed Byrd Brothers Racing and collaborated with Panther Racing to field Buddy Lazier in 2005. Lazier overcome issues early on in race weekend to finish fifth, the best result for a Byrd Racing entry at the Indianapolis 500 to date.

Buddy Lazier gave Byrd Racing their best Indianapolis 500 finish-fifth in 2005

Jonathan Byrd passed away in 2009, but in 2015 the Byrd Racing name made its return to the speedway. The team partnered with KV Racing to enter Bryan Clauson in the race.

Clauson started 30th, but was out of the race after a crash 61 laps in, finishing 31st. The next year, the team and Clauson entered the 100th Indianapolis 500 with Dale Coyne Racing.

The Noblesville, Indiana native started 28th and led three laps, finishing in 23rd. The effort marked a career-best finish for Clauson.

Tragedy struck in August of that year, however. Clauson was fatally injured in a sprint car crash. Clauson’s death left Byrd Racing’s IndyCar future uncertain.

This year, Byrd Racing returns in a partnership with Foyt’s team that bears a few noticeable similarities to their 1994 effort in the race.

“My father partnered with AJ back in 1994, so 24 years ago, my dad worked with AJ, and this year I’m able to work with Larry, so kind of a multigenerational thing happening, so it’s kind of exciting and fun, and some similarities to that program,” Team Principal David Byrd noted during Friday’s announcement.

“We ran No. 33 back then, going to run 33 again. It’s our 33rd anniversary of our first 500 this year. ’85 was the first time my dad took a driver to the Speedway.”

With a name that has become iconic to Indianapolis and the 500 over the past several decades, Byrd Racing’s May return will be a very welcome one at the speedway.

Images courtesy of INDYCAR Media

Spencer Neff

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