Senior staff writer
“We’re just crazy people who love racing; what more can I say?”
With those words, Jonathan Byrd’s Racing matriarch Ginny Byrd explained the family’s return to the Indianapolis 500 after a year’s absence. Neither she nor her sons, Greenwood natives David and Jonathan Byrd II, didn’t fathom that qualifying for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 would be this crazy.
The team co-owners of the No. 33 Dallara/Chevrolet driven by Australian James Davison had their share of drama for three days at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Davison crashed late Friday into the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2. He suffered only a bruised knee, but the car was badly damaged. Repairs were completed in Gasoline Alley by 3 a.m. Saturday, just a few hours before tech inspection and Bump Day.
“Geez, everything was replaced,” David Byrd said. “The entire left side, gearbox, suspension components, left side uprights, right front upright, undertray, re-vinyl it, decals – my brother and I stayed with them all night. We were first in line in tech that morning.”
And then Saturday, Davison, the Byrds, co-team owners Brian Belardi, Brad Hollinger and A.J. Foyt sat on the bubble as competitors tried to knock them from the 33rd qualifying spot. Davison’s first-day qualifying speed was 224.798 mph.
Crowd favorites Pippa Mann and James Hinchcliffe failed in their runs and were not fast enough for the starting grid, which was set Sunday.
Davison made the biggest gain Sunday with a qualifying run of 226.255 mph, up from the slowest qualifier Saturday to improve 14 positions to Row 7. Foyt drivers, 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan (10th) and Brazilian rookie Matt Leist (11th), also are in the lineup.
David Byrd explained that he discussed this year’s venture with Davison after last year’s race. Team owner Dale Coyne tabbed him to replace injured Sebastien Bourdais. Davison started 33rd and led two laps before being gathered into a five-car crash with 16 laps to go.
Byrd eventually joined with Hollinger and Belardi for a third entry, marking a reunion with Foyt. In 1994 Greenwood business owner Jonathan Byrd, who died in 2009, teamed Foyt and driver John Andretti at the 500 and sponsored him in finishing the double in the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The Byrd racing heritage goes back to 1982 with sponsorship of former Greenwood parks director Jim Begley in a late model at the Indianapolis Speedrome.
The family’s return to the Speedway is somewhat bittersweet. JBR sponsored Rich Vogler in his first 500 in 1985 with a top finish of eighth in 1989 but was killed in a sprint car accident at Salem Speedway. They returned in 2015 with Vogler-like Bryan Clauson who was the first JBR driver to lead the 500 in 2016. He died in a racing accident in August 2016.
In 1996, Arie Luyendyk, driving for John Treadway and Jonathan Byrd, set one-lap (237.498 mph) and four-lap (236.986 mph) records that still stand.
“Racing is in our DNA,” Jonathan Byrd II said. “The passion of our father leads us in this sport; it keeps us driven to succeed and to win the 500 one of these days. We’re at the point again where we want to compete at the highest level. It’s a matter of putting opportunities together to advance the sport and advance our business.”
JBR is associated with three entries in the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 on Miller Lite Carb Day Friday at the Speedway.
They are partners with Belardi and 2017 USAC/AMSOIL National Sprint Car champion Chris Windom and sponsor cars driven by USAC sprint car leader Kevin Thomas, Jr. and third-generation driver Davey Hamilton Jr. The three drivers will compete in the annual Little 500 Saturday at Anderson Speedway.