SOUTHSIDER VOICE BY AL STILLEY The Byrd family plans to return to the Indianapolis 500 in 2015 with Hoosier-born driver Bryan Clauson (second from left). The announcement was made last week by (from left) sons Jonathan and David Byrd and mom Ginny Byrd, widow of the founder of Jonathan Byrd’s Racing and Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria.
By Al Stilley
Southsider Voice correspondent
The legacy of the late Jonathan Byrd will return to the Indianapolis 500 in 2015.
Byrd, who founded Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria and Catering in Greenwood, entered cars in the 500 for short track stars Rich Vogler and Stan Fox, as well as 1996 pole sitter Arie Luyendyk.
Byrd died in 2009, leaving his business ventures in the hands of wife, Ginny, who has a bargain plate meal named after her, and sons Jonathan II and David. Byrd’s last car was in the 2005 Indianapolis 500, and his first entry was in 1985, making the 2015 revival a 30th anniversary observance.
Last week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the Byrd family announced that it would partner with another car owner and return to the IMS with three-time United States Auto Club national driving champion Bryan Clauson of Noblesville as their driver.
“We love this place,” Byrd II said. “We were aiming at the 2016 Indianapolis 500, but with the enthusiasm we were receiving that Jonathan Byrd (family) would be back at the 500, we are saying that we will be back in 2015.”
Mrs. Byrd said the family’s re-entry into the Indianapolis 500 continues the legacy of her late husband.
“They (sons) have grown up in racing,” she said with them at her side at the Speedway. “Their dad had the passion and gave that passion to them.”
After going over Clauson’s resume, Ginny remarked, “We love the fact that he has a short track racing background, and that goes right back to our roots. This is full circle, full circle; I’m excited.”
Mrs. Byrd, upon realizing that Clauson, 24, has already accomplished numerous championships in his career, said she owns purses that are older than the newest Jonathan Byrd’s Racing driver.
Clauson raced in the 2012 Indianapolis 500 for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing as a Firestone Indy Lights graduate. His background is similar to the late Rich Vogler, who was a two-time USAC Speedrome, two-time USAC national midget and two-time USAC sprint car champion.
“It’s an honor to have him (Clauson) drive for us, and I’m very happy that we’re not going to have to wait another two years,” she said. “We’re going to give him all the resources that he needs to run up front and compete to win.”
Fully aware of Byrd’s legacy, Clauson stated, “The Byrd family has a tremendous history not only at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but also among the short track community as well. To add my name to an impressive list of Jonathan Byrd’s Racing drivers that includes guys like Rich Vogler and Stan Fox is an honor.”
Byrd began his race car ownership and sponsorship under his Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in 1982 in the Pro Stock division with driver Jim Begley of Greenwood. Byrd later noticed Vogler’s aggressive racing style in the USAC Midget Series and eventually advanced to the Indianapolis 500. Vogler raced in five Indy 500s for Byrd, finishing a career-best eighth in 1989.
In qualifying for the 1996 race, Luyendyk set one- and four-lap records of 237.498 mph and 236.986, respectively.