Vail’s Buddy Lazier is running his 20th Indianapolis 500 | AspenTimes.com

Vail’s Buddy Lazier is running his 20th Indianapolis 500

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily

VAIL — Not so long ago, Vail's Buddy Lazier was the youngest driver in the Indianapolis 500. This year, he's 49 and the oldest driver in the race, his 20th.

So, Buddy, what would 49-year old Buddy tell 19-year-old Buddy about a racing career?

"I honestly don't think 19-year-old Buddy would listen," he said, laughing.

Lazier made his first qualifying attempt in 1989, before 12 drivers in this year's field were born.

"I don't think about it that way. I'm in great shape. I have lots of experience," he said.

Lazier has more Indianapolis Motor Speedway laps than any living driver. He needed most of that experience this week.

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Other teams had been in Gasoline Alley for weeks before Lazier Racing Partners arrived at Indianapolis late last week. Myriad minor disasters awaited them, and Lazier had only 30 practice laps before he had to qualify.

Instead of focusing on the 10-mile sprint to qualify, they concentrated on their race setup. They're ready to run 500 miles. His No. 44 Lazier Racing-Stalk It-Tivoli Lodge Chevrolet is in the field with a four-lap average of 223.417 mph.

"We'll be racy. We'll surprise some people," he said. "I think we have a pretty good race car. I think we'll do well."

Lazier is proud of how well his team has done in a few days. Bigger and more well-financed teams could do it, but not as well.

"If we started against a field that started Friday, they'd have a helluva time catching us," Lazier said. "We're still a small team, but what we have right now, we think we'll have a great race. I anticipate running all day. In the future, we plan to run even better. We're planning to make a serious run again."

Could be 25 starts

Al Unser was 47 when he became the oldest driver to win Indy, his fourth, in 1987.

Lazier's first attempt at Indy was 1989. He did not successfully qualify until 1991, and won in 1996 by being 0.695 seconds ahead of Davy Jones. He finished second in 1998 and 2000, and fifth in 2005.

He earned that 1996 win with a broken back suffered nine weeks before, during a horrific crash in Phoenix. Today will be his 20th Indy start, but it could be 25, he said.

"Think of that. There has only been 100 years of Indy car racing, and I've been around for a quarter of it. I attribute it to good living in Vail, Colorado," he said.

Lazier pointed out that Eagle County was found to be one of the nation's fittest counties in a couple of research sets. Another found that people in our region live longer than almost anyone else in the country.

"We live longer, so we might as well go racing longer," he said.

Basketball and Indy racing

When he's not hitting the gas and turning left at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Lazier's family owns and operates Vail's Tivoli Lodge. The Tivoli had a great season, Lazier said.

Luck smiled on Lazier when Indiana Pacers point guard Jeff Teague agreed to sponsor Lazier in this year's Indy, which fits Buddy like a racing glove. Teague is a hometown guy, born and raised in Indianapolis, and is opening a new D-1 training and physical therapy center there in a few weeks. Lazier's old friend Bruce Bohlander drove by Teague's new gym and made a call. Three weeks later, Teague was part of Lazier Racing Partners.

"The entire Teague family is amazing. They've given a lot to the Indianapolis community," Lazier said.

"It's like what the Tivoli is for me. It's wise to become an entrepreneur, to have some businesses outside your sport."

Lazier changed his car number from 4 to 44, Teague's jersey number.

"It combines Indy car racing and basketball. It's a no miss. It's the most Indiana combination I can think of," Lazier said.

When they started all of those years ago, most of their sponsors were in the petroleum industry, Lazier said. They're branching out, and because of that, they'll be able to sustain the racing end of their business.

"I think I'll be able to come back and race many more times, come back and do it right," Lazier said.

Family matters

Buddy is Bob Lazier's son, a 1981 Indy 500 driver, and seven-time Indy starter Jaques Lazier's brother.

Buddy and Bob have been guiding Buddy's 18-year-old son, Flinn, in his fledgling racing career. Flinn is winning Formula Vee races and is now licensed to drive anything up to Indy cars and Formula 1.

If Buddy can keep doing what he loves, and Flinn progresses as quickly as he has shown he can, then we may see father and son square off at Indy someday. Flinn earned his FIA professional license, which makes he and Buddy one of the rare father-son combinations to have one.

"My wife and his mother, Kara, and I have talked about it. It comes down to sponsorships. Success out here is money squared," Lazier said.

Flinn graduated on Friday afternoon with the Vail Mountain School Class of 2017. Buddy was in Indianapolis and missed it.

"That stings a bit. That's a very special thing. I'm very proud of my son," he said.

Flinn, Kara and sister Jacqueline will fly to Indianapolis early today and be in Indianapolis for the Indy 500 parade.

Buddy missed his college graduation because he was racing. An ABC film crew filmed his Curry College commencement and made it part of a television special. Part of Flinn's early success stems from Buddy not doing everything for him, letting him make his own mistakes and acquire his own hard-earned experience.

"There are lots of families in motor sports. It's a family craft. The patriarch might not have wanted them in the sport, but they grow up around it. When they show a gift, they want to support that," Lazier said.

Left out

Lazier was forced out of last year's Indy 500 when his left front wheel came off after a pit stop, rolling up the track while he sat in his stationary car and watched it go. It was all too familiar.

"I had a race won in Atlanta decades before when that same thing happened," Lazier said.

He was getting up to speed out of the pits and was on the microphone complimenting his crew for the great pit stop when the wheel came off. Lazier was stunned, his microphone was still open, and his vernacular became pretty darned colorful. The YouTube video is amusing.

"In Atlanta, like last year, it didn't give me any indication in the car. If it's not seated right, it's amazing how quickly they'll work themselves off," Lazier said.

All these decades later, he still loves the Indy 500 for all of its pageantry and possibilities.

"It so challenging for driver and machine," he said. "There's no place to hide. You're either getting with it or you're not. It's such a special place."

rwyrick@vaildaily.com

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