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  • A recap of Buddy Lazier's 2005 Indy 500, from David Byrd

    A recap of Buddy Lazier's 2005 Indy 500...

    AN AMAZING EXPERIENCE

    After Friday's Carb Day crash, the Byrd Brothers/Panther Racing team swung into action. They went from "crash" to "thrash" and put together a racecar that was mere seconds away from taking the checkered flag and putting Buddy Lazier back into Victory Lane in the Indianapolis 500.

    The damaged racing machine was completed and ready to race by 6pm on Saturday evening. There was not going to be an opportunity for a leak check or any installation laps on the newly re-built racecar, so the first few laps of the race were going to be interesting.

    Walking out on the grid the morning of the race, both of the Byrd Brothers were overcome with emotions. The thoughts of the many years past that their dad had made the same walk, and experiencing the same feelings that he had felt so many times, coupled together with the fact they were doing this in his honor made both of them just a tad bit emotional. It is a certainty that they weren't the first people to have been made to feel overwhelmed by the Brickyard, and they certainly will not be the last.

    The pomp and the pageantry of the pre-race ceremonies flew by in a way that they never had before. It seemed that the hours before the race were nothing more than a few minutes. The bands had marched and played, the introductions had been made, prayers were prayed, a jet had flown overhead, the songs were sung and the balloons floated skyward. These events passed in the blink of an eye.

    And finally, the command to start engines.

    Goosebumps. Chills. Butterflies. A nervous glance skyward. A silent prayer.

    The parade lap commenced, the pace lap followed, the field formed up and the green flag flew. Buddy Lazier didn't take any time to "feel out" the Jiffy Lube/Jonathan Byrd's Cafeteria/ESPN950/Chevrolet, diving into turn one and immediately moving up one spot to 8th place. Within the first few laps, Buddy was into 6th place and moving forward. The Byrd Brothers/Panther Racing team was loving every minute, feeling pretty good about the car that they had put together for their superbly talented Indycar pilot.

    A lap by lap race report is hardly a necessity here. Suffice it to say that Buddy lived up to every expectation that was placed on him. He was a man on a mission. He never, ever fell out of contention, running just a few second shy of the lead for the vast majority of the race. It was a beautiful thing to see, but there were several incidents that many people may be wondering about.

    Before recounting the "incidents" that make the story of Buddy Lazier's run in the 2005 Indianapolis 500 the stuff of legends, it has to be said that the over the wall crew for the Byrd Brothers/Panther Racing #95 did a phenomenal job. Many thought that Buddy's crew would be the weak link come race day, but it most certainly was not. When it comes to positions gained versus positions lost in the pits, that group of guys, which was a group that had never gone over the wall together in race conditions before, basically broke even on the day. Bottom line, they kept Buddy in contention on the racetrack.

    So what were those incidents that cost Buddy his shot at the win? The first was a pit lane incident with about 45 laps left, in which Buddy's right front wing was damaged. After much deliberation, the team decided to call Buddy in towards the end of the caution period in order to replace the damaged wing. This resulted in the only time during the day that Buddy was out of the top ten, as he rejoined the pack in 13th position. However, coming to the restart, Danica Patrick spun. In the resulting scramble, Buddy made contact with another car, bending his brand new left front wing upwards. Chief Engineer Andy Brown decided that Buddy could live with the damage, so he was not called in for a new nose and wing.

    The next incident came with about 30 laps to go in the race, as Buddy attempted to pass Scott Sharp on the backstretch. Sharp blocked him all the way down to the grass and was subsequently black-flagged. As a sidenote, the black flag was issued to Sharp before the Byrd Brothers/Panther team were even able to lodge a complaint with race officials. While being blocked, Buddy got into the back of Sharp's car, putting a huge gash in the nose and causing significant damage to the right front wing.

    Again, the team decided that Buddy could live with the new damage, as pitting to change the nose and wing again would cost him extremely valuable track position. Even with the damage, Buddy was able to run with the leaders, as his Chevrolet was making a tremendous amount of power. However, the damage did make it very difficult to pass for position and cost Buddy quite a bit of straightline speed.

    The final incident of the race came with just three laps left. Racing down the backstretch in 6th place, Buddy moved outside to pass the 5th place car of Sebastian Bourdais. As Buddy made the pass, Bourdais made a slight move to the right, causing him to make contact with Buddy's left front wing, clipping off the end plate and cracking the left front wing.

    Bourdais' subsequent crash in turn three brought out the race's final caution, just as Buddy was moving around Danica Patrick for what would have been a 4th place finish. The yellow flew before the pass was completed, causing Buddy and the Byrd Brothers/Panther team to have to settle for a 5th place finish. This observer believes that if the last two cautions had not taken place, that both Patrick and Herta would have had to pit for fuel, or at least go as lean as possible, thereby making a third place finish a very possible result.

    It was the Byrd family's highest finish at Indy, eclipsing the two 6th place finishes delivered by Gordon Johncock in 1991 and the late Scott Brayton in 1993. It was Panther Racing's best Indy finish as well. It was Buddy Lazier's 5th top five at Indy, and best finish since 2000, when we finished in the runner-up position for the second time.

    There are some interesting sidenotes that must be mentioned. The first is that Buddy was never passed on-track in a straight fight. That fact is made even more amazing when you stop to consider that less than 49 hours before the race began, the car had slammed into the turn four wall. Even more amazing is that throughout the race, the crew made only one aerodynamic change to the car, that being a half turn of front wing on Buddy's second pit stop. Everyone should know that the Byrd Brothers/Panther Racing team delivered a nearly perfect car to Buddy Lazier. The only times that Buddy was passed was either in the pit, or when traffic bottled things up and caused momentum to be lost. The other thing that simply must be reported is that Buddy passed, in straight fights on the race track (not in traffic), every person that finished ahead of him, except for Bryan Herta. At one time or another, he caught and passed, Wheldon, Meira, and Patrick. He also passed, at one time or another in straight-up fights, Kanaan, Hornish and Franchitti. The only reason that he never passed Herta on track is that Herta was always behind him until Herta elected to stay out when the rest of the leaders pitted. To that point in time, he was always behind Buddy.

    Those facts are a testimony to the tremendous racecar that the Byrd Brothers/Panther Racing team gave him on Sunday, the phenomenal power that the Chevrolet engine was delivering and the tremendously talented race car driver that Buddy Lazier obviously is. You hate to play the "what if" game, but had it not been for the wing incidents, nobody was going to beat Buddy Lazier on Sunday. If you want to see what Buddy was racing with for the last 25 laps, go to www.pantherracing.com and take a look at the picture of the nose and wing of Buddy's car that was taken immediately after the race. And remember, that was the replacement nose.

    What a fantastic month it was! The Byrd Brothers are tremendously thankful to everyone at Panther Racing for entering into this partnership and allowing them to live their dreams. Many thanks are due to John Barnes, Gary Pedigo, Doug Boles, Mike Griffin and Jim Harbaugh. Also, many thanks are due to the Byrd Brothers/Panther Engineering Staff, Crew and the entire Panther Racing organization. Special recognition and appreciation is also due to Mike Kitchel for all of his work.

    The Byrd Brothers would also like to thank their sponsors for making all of this possible. A big "thank you" to everyone at Chevrolet, Firestone, Jiffy Lube, Jonathan Byrd's Cafeteria, ESPN 950, US Foodservice, American Sentry Guard, Reach Magazine, WHMB TV 40, Associated Builders and Contractors, Indiana Downs, the American Heart and Stroke Associations, Ward's Apparel, Jetstream Wireless, Arizona Asphalt, Bulldog Carpet Cleaning, Lamb Architects, Ever-Klear Pool Supply, Palm Valley Cleaners, Lamb Architects and American Telephone.

    The Byrd Brothers also want to thank Jonathan and Virgina Byrd. They did this to honor their father and their mother.

    Congratulations to Dan Wheldon and the Andretti-Green Racing team. Fantastic job.

    Lastly, Buddy, thank you so much for making this month of May a wonderful experience. Thank you for bringing us all so close. Thank you for making all of the work, blood, sweat and tears worthwhile. It was a pleasure to watch you race and a privilege to have you drive our racecar. You were the best out there on Sunday. You are a champion. You are our champion.

    • redlegs75
      #1
      redlegs75 commented
      Editing a comment
      Great post, I enjoyed it tremendously. I was at the race in turn 3 as Buddy won the 1996 race. It was a great race and Buddy drove it so skillfully and determined, and I remember that he even was suffering from a bad back.
    Posting comments is disabled.

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