Had all gone according to plan, in May Jonathan Byrd’s Racing would have ended an 11-year hiatus from the Indianapolis 500.
Fortunately for the Greenwood-based racing team, that plan fell through.
Instead of returning in 2016, Byrd Racing returned in 2015, a year ahead of schedule, and is positioned for what it hopes are many happy returns.
Having forged a partnership late last year with Dale Coyne Racing, Byrd’s Racing will have stakes in two drivers for next month’s historic 100th running of the Indy 500 and now has a stake in the full Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.
As part of the deal, Coyne is a co-entrant for Byrd driver Bryan Clauson, and Byrd is the primary sponsor for Coyne driver Conor Daly, who is running the full 2016 IndyCar schedule.
The exception is the Indy 500, where the Byrd sponsorship will shift to driver Bryan Clauson.
Clauson will the drive the No. 88 Dale Coyne/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing Cancer Treatment Centers of America Honda in a one-off co-entry for the 500.
Byrd still will be part of the sponsorship for Daly’s 500 entry but is not a co-entrant.
For Byrd Racing, owned by Ginny Byrd and her sons, Jonathan Byrd II and David Byrd, the Coyne partnership is an opportunity to expand and grow the family’s lengthy open-wheel racing and Indy 500 traditions.
It is also a vehicle for growing the family’s primary business interests in the restaurant and hotel service industries.
“We’ve changed our focus,” David Byrd said. “Rather than trying to be our own team full-time and have our own entrant and build up a program from scratch, we really focused on, ‘What are we?’
“First and foremost, we’re a hospitality and restaurant company, so let’s focus on that and build our business through our motorsports platform and bring sponsor deals and partner deals alongside. That way we’re able to advance our entrant and build our business.”
And if all goes as expected, to field competitive rides for this, and future, Indy 500s.
Fixtures at the race since for most of the past three decades, Byrd Racing was founded in 1982 by family patriarch Jonathan Byrd, who died in 2009. The Byrds consistently fielded Indy 500 entries until 2005, when Buddy Lazier drove to a team-best fifth-place finish.
But that was the Byrds’ last entry until they announced plans two years ago to return in 2016 with Clauson as their driver — plans that were pushed by a year when the package came together quicker than expected.
Clauson qualified for the 2015 race and finished 31st following a crash on Lap 61. He will attempt to qualify for the 100th running as the driver for the Coyne/Byrd entry.
“Things are going pretty well with Dale Coyne Racing right now. They do a great job with what they put together,” David Byrd said. “We’re making progress, and hopefully it’s going to be long-term for us.
“In racing, long-term stability is everything.”
Besides enhancing their 500 entry with the Coyne partnership, the Byrds are equally delighted to sponsor Daly — who pilots the Dale Coyne Racing/Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality & Restaurant Group No. 18 — for the entire IndyCar season.
Daly, like Clauson, is a Noblesville resident and widely regarded among open-wheel racing’s top young talents. He is the son of former Formula One and Indy car driver Derek Daly.
“It’s always exciting to be back full-time,” Byrd said. “Not only did we advance our Indy 500 program forward through 2016, we’ve added a full IndyCar season presence. With Conor as a (full season) rookie, we’re hoping everything goes well this year.
“Everything’s going according to plan. We’ve been making progress.”
Practice for Indy 500 qualifying begins May 16. By then, Clauson well be exceptionally well-versed in making left-hand turns.
Sponsored by Byrd Racing for what is arguably the busiest short-track season for any American driver in history, Clauson is attempting to compete in 200 races before the end of 2016. His bid, dubbed “The Chasing 200 Tour: Circular Sanity,” will be less than half complete by the time Indy 500 rolls around.
David Byrd is confident Clauson’s busy schedule, coupled with the Coyne partnership, will have long-term benefits for the 26-year-old driver.
“He’s racing more than anyone else in the world,” Byrd said. “But when it comes the Indy car, he just needs to consistently be at Indianapolis, in a stable package, turning laps, getting experience in cars and building his confidence.
“If we can do that with the same program, year after year, with the same people, he clearly has the skills to be competitive and exceptional.”
Founded in 1982, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing has been part of 17 Indianapolis 500 entries. Here is how they finished:
1985 – Rich Vogler (23rd)
1986 – Vogler (25th)
1987 – Vogler (20th)
1988 – Vogler (17th)
1989 – Vogler (eighth)
1991 – Stan Fox (eighth), Gordon Johncock (sixth), Buddy Lazier (33rd)
1992 – Stan Fox (27th)
1993 – Scott Brayton (sixth)
1994 – John Andretti (10th)
1995 – Davy Jones (23rd)
1996 – Arie Luyendyk (16th)
1997 – Mike Groff (12th)
1998 – Groff (15th)
2001 – Jaques Lazier (22nd)
2005 – Buddy Lazier (fifth)
2015 — Bryan Clauson (31st)