Senior staff writer
The motor sports sponsorship legacy left by the late Jonathan Byrd of Greenwood will reappear throughout the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series.
Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality & Restaurant Group, which includes Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria & Catering in Greenwood, will sponsor the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing for Conor Daly for all series races except the Indianapolis 500, in which it will back the No. 88 of Bryan Clauson.
Byrd’s widow, Ginny, and sons David and Jonathan II made the announcement with car owner Coyne, along with Clauson and Daly during the massive three-day Performance Racing Industry Trade Show at the Indiana Convention Center last week.
Byrd launched his sponsorship in the 500 in 1985 with Rich Vogler when the Greenwood native owned several Kentucky Fried Chicken locations in northern Johnson County. Among drivers who raced in the 500 with Byrd’s sponsorship are Gordon Johncock, Scott Brayton, Buddy Lazier, John Andretti, John Paul Jr. and Arie Luyendyk, who holds the one- and four-lap records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Byrd’s best finish was fifth with Lazier in 2005. His cars won races at Phoenix in 1996 with Luyendyk and Texas in 1998 with Paul.
Byrd died in 2009 after a lengthy illness, but the family resumed Byrd’s sponsorship in the 2015 500 with Clauson, who drove his first 500 in 2012 for team owner Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.
This marks the first time that Byrd’s is sponsoring a race car in every IndyCar Series event for an entire season.
David Byrd contends that the season sponsorship is an extension of the family’s heritage and also of the growth of a refashioned Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality & Restaurant Group in central Indiana and Arizona, which includes hotel interests.
“When my son, David, came to me about this potential arrangement with Dale Coyne and related the story about how much Dale thought of their father, how he respected what he did in racing, and his love for racing in the Indianapolis 500, I was very pleased to give my blessing on teaming with Dale,” said Ginny Byrd, owner of Jonathan Byrd’s.
Coyne said he is obtaining a major sponsor for the No. 18 car for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Clauson, 26, is a popular three-time USAC national driving champion, a two-time winner of the Turkey Night Grand Prix and 2014 winner of the prestigious Chili Bowl. He also is a two-time USAC National Midget Series champion and USAC National Sprint Car champion. He has won more than 160 career feature wins in sprint, midget and Silver Crown cars.
Jonathan Byrd II, team principal of Jonathan Byrd's Racing, added, “Over the years our family has entrusted many great names in racing to be our partner for our IndyCar efforts, and being able to add Dale Coyne's name to that list, with his successes within and passion for the sport, means a lot to us.
“At one point in time I specifically remember saying to Conor’s father, Derek, that if we ever had a chance to make it work, I would want Conor full time in an IndyCar, and now here we are with it coming to pass. What Conor did in Europe with his incredible talent has always impressed me, and his dogged determination to work hard to get a ride in the series makes me know he will do incredible work in the Jonathan Byrd's machine.”
Ginny recalled that she attended her first 500 with Jonathan when they were dating in 1973. Byrd’s mother and father owned and operated a restaurant near the corner of Main Street and U.S. 31 in Greenwood in 1952. Jonathan eventually turned the restaurant into his first Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise and later opened Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria in 1987.
The family also announced the inaugural Jonathan Byrd’s Indy Challenge, a unique seven-race series within USAC’s National and Western Midget series that will earn a driver a seat in the 2017 Freedom 100 Indy Lights race at the IMS. The driver would have to win five races; a full sweep would earn him a ride in the 2018 Indy 500.
Lawrenceburg Speedway is the only Hoosier track in the challenge.