By: Tanner Watkins
December 14, 2018 | 8:00 AM
It’s safe to say there are more than a few open-wheel racing fans that like to watch Conor Daly race.
While most of the time they wish for the second-generation driver to be in an Indy car, supporters will at least get a chance to watch Daly compete at one of the year’s most anticipated dirt track events this January: the Chili Bowl.
Linking up with long-time friends and racing partners Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, Daly will be back in a dirt midget sprint car after making his debut at the BC39 sprint car race in Indianapolis this past September.
David Byrd is one member of the Byrd family keeping the namesake’s racing legacy alive, and he was a facilitator in the deal that will put Daly on the Tulsa, Oklahoma dirt in just about a month. Putting together an agreement for Daly to race the 2019 Chili Bowl wasn’t as tedious as readers may think, actually harkening back to the “good old days” of handshake deals and simply wanting to race for the sake of racing.
“Obviously we were a sponsor for Conor couple years ago in his first full season in IndyCar with Dale Coyne Racing back in 2016,” Byrd explains. “We have always liked Conor and kept in contact, and after he ran the BC39 midget race in September at the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway, it was just a natural extension of that since I went ahead and sponsored Conor (at the BC39) because we knew it would get a lot of attention.
“People started automatically asking him, ‘hey do you want to do some more? Do you want to run USAC? Do you want to run the Chili Bowl?'” Byrd continues.
“So, of course, he said he’d be interested in that because he’s a racer. Early (in November) I just said ‘hey do you want to run Chili Bowl?’ and he said ‘yeah I think I’d like to.’ There’s a lot of guys who own midgets out there that just started advertising the fact that they had seats available, and you just got to find the right situation that will provide a good, comfortable, platform for Conor to gain experience and have a nice platform for which to drive.”
The pairing eventually tracked down Jody Rosenboom, a car owner from Iowa, and hammered out a deal for the Noblesville, Indiana native to drive in the January event. To prepare for the Chili Bowl, Daly will also race this weekend in Du Quoin, Illinois at the 4th Annual Junior Knepper 55 on December 15.
While IndyCar fans will recognize the Byrd name from their efforts at Indianapolis, the organization is far from unfamiliar with grassroots racing. This is the same team that brought guys like Rich Vogler, Stan Fox and Bryan Clauson to the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, and they feel at home on dirt.
To link Daly with one of short track racing’s most recognizable events was an opportunity too good to pass up for Byrd.
“It wasn’t something Conor was banging down the door to get done,” says Byrd. “It was just something that, to me, made sense for him being an Indiana kid and being willing to step outside his comfort zone to get out there during the BC 39 race. And he really took a good shellacking honestly when it came to getting it done. But honestly, I think we had about 10, maybe 12 minutes of green flag time in the car over two days, and he really started to get the hang of it.”
The midget sprint car Daly will command during races in Du Quoin and Tulsa this winter is a fickle beast. Midget sprints make their power at the top end of the rev range, so full commitment is necessary to be competitive. Rosenboom’s machine for Daly should be a bit smoother through the powerband, Byrd states, for a more forgiving and linear application of the throttle.
A smooth throttle will help the inexperienced dirt racer in his two cameo events, but Byrd persists that it is Daly’s talent which will shine through with time.
“The bottom line is Conor’s a racer. He’s a talented racer,” Byrd states confidently. “He’s won at every level he’s raced except for Indy car and he got awfully close in Indy car on a couple occasions. He’s led laps and shown what he can do, so racing is racing. Given the opportunity to get more experience, I expect Conor to show well and to represent IndyCar well.
“I think it’d be great if he had a full-time IndyCar gig that was going along with this but I think the fact that he doesn’t right now is what has allowed him to say yes to this kind of opportunity and maybe he’d be a little bit more hesitant to say yes if he had a full-time gig in place.
“But I would be open if somebody else wanted to do it. If Rossi or Marco or somebody was a full-time guy that occasionally expressed some level of interest to step outside their comfort zone and doing something different…if they expressed an interest I’d be happy to make those arrangements too.”
IndyCar stars racing at the grassroots level in dirt sprint cars. What a concept?
While Byrd’s willingness to offer these unique opportunities to some of the series’ other notable names shows that he is business savvy, this is just as much an enjoyable adventure for the experienced motorsports executive as it is a publicity pull.
“It’s fun honestly,” says Byrd. “Red Lion Hotels Corporation, Tilson, H/R, E&K Construction, Protein Water and a couple others that are our primary backers that we do business with. They like to see us do these types of things too.
“I think with Conor, this has a ton of attention and that’s part of the reason to do things like this. Hopefully he’ll be on the grid at Indy as well and I’m sure we’ll have some involvement with him too at that level.”
If all goes well, Byrd will have connections to Daly, James Davison
Header image by James Black/INDYCAR.