For much of three decades, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing has been a familiar presence at the Indianapolis 500.
Founded in 1982 by the late Greenwood restaurateur Jonathan Byrd, the team has fielded 19 entries in the Indianapolis 500.
The first was in 1985 with driver Rich Vogler, who competed in five straight Indy 500s before being killed in a 1990 sprint-car crash in Salem. The most recent was in 2015 with driver Bryan Clauson, who also is qualified for Sunday’s historic 100th running.
Between 1985 and 1998, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing sponsored cars in 13 straight races, including three in 1991 with drivers Stan Fox, Gordon Johncock and Buddy Lazier.
Another highlight of the 1990s was the 1996 Jonathan Byrd/Treadway Racing entry of Arie Luyendyk, who set one-lap and four-lap qualifying records that still stand to this day.
But after the 1998 race, with Mike Goff driving, Byrd entries became intermittent.
Byrd’s Racing returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2001 with driver Jaques Lazier, which was followed by a three-year hiatus that ended in 2005 with the sponsorship of Buddy Lazier.
Buddy Lazier finished fifth in 2005, the highest ever for a Byrd-sponsored driver. But he would be the team’s last entry until 2015, when it returned to the Speedway with Clauson.
Byrd’s Racing’s 10-year absence from the 500 stemmed in part to the 2009 death of patriarch Jonathan Byrd, who founded the team initially for short-track races.
But as the team and its success grew, the Speedway eventually became a destination. And now, seven years after Jonathan Byrd’s passing, his family is carrying on the Indy 500 tradition.
Owned by his wife Ginny Byrd and sons Jonathan Byrd II and David Byrd, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing is not only back at the Speedway, but back in time for the 100th running.
David Byrd handles much of the day-to-day operations of the family’s racing interests. He recently shared a few thoughts on the significance of being part of Sunday’s historic race, which is expected to draw a record crowd of 350,000 people.
Q: What does it mean to your family to be a part of this historic 100th running?
A: I’m sure it’s difficult to say something different than what has already been said, but of course it’s very satisfying. Honestly, though, every year is a historic running.
Any annual event that lasts more than a century is obviously something quite amazing. So while the 100th is attracting a great deal of attention because it is the 100th, and quite rightly, we’re already thinking about the 101st, because that’s going to be a special event, as well.
Q: How proud do you think your dad would be to know that you have a driver in this race?
A: It’s hard to say. I’d like to think that he would be more proud of the program that we have put together and the way that we are going about representing the family and our businesses.
While our goal is to be competitive and ultimately to win, we also want to do so in a way that is honorable and ethical, as we feel the burden to maintain the reputation that he built over the years.
I believe that we are accomplishing that, and that is something that I believe would make him proud.
Q: Why is racing so important to your family?
A: Good question. While it has always been good for our business, it has also always been something that we can do as a family.
Over the years, even though we are all busy doing different things in different states with different roles for our company, we have been able to coalesce and have wonderful experiences around racing.
It allows my brother and I to work together in a very meaningful way. It’s a challenge that forces us to be creative and resourceful.
Founded in 1982, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing has been part of 19 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)
2016 — Bryan Clauson