The Jonathan Byrd family continues their Indianapolis 500 legacy Sunday that began in 1985 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The late family patriarch Jonathan Byrd had his first car sponsorship in late-model Figure-8s at the Indianapolis Speedrome in 1982 before advancing to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with midget-sprint car ace Rich Vogler. The hard-charging driver had a top finish of eighth place in the 500. He died in a sprint car accident in 2016 at Salem Speedway.
Matriarch Ginny Byrd remains as “team mom,” cheerleader, encourager and baker of goodies for the team. Son David Byrd heads the operations for Byrd Racing and family enterprises in the Phoenix area, including four hotels and Jonathan Byrd II continues his involvement in motorsports as president of the Indianapolis Speedrome.
The sons grew up in Greenwood where their parents owned former Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises in Johnson County and Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria in Greenwood. No longer on the Southside, the family continues the heritage with Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality and Restaurant Group, including 502 East Event Center in Carmel.
David Byrd has teamed Byrd Racing with veteran 500 team owner Dale Coyne in a Honda-powered entry with Australian driver James Davison for the second time. Byrd came to his first 500 as an 8-year-old boy when his passion for the 500 and open wheel racing was fostered.
“This is something our family can do together,” Byrd said.
He spoke lovingly of what he learned from his father who died in 2009 about the sport that can be an ecstatic to tragic experience.
“Stay in your lane,” Byrd replied immediately. “Make sure you can do what you do well. You cannot second-guess and you have to stay focused on what you can do and let those on your team focus on their duties.
“There’s a lot of outside interference here (500) that you have to ignore,” Byrd continued. “I know I have earned my way to be able to do certain roles. Others here – drivers, crew chiefs, mechanics and crew members have earned it by the sweat of their brow. My role is to put the best program together at Indy.”
He expressed respect for Coyne whom they teamed with at the 500 two years ago.
“He has a top-flight program,” Byrd said. “He, like us, utilizes his business interests to support racing.”
The Byrd family also is involved as a co-entrant in USAC Silver Crown and sprint car races for drivers Chris Windom and Kevin Thomas. Byrd is a co-entrant for Windham in the Indy Lights Freedom 100 Friday at the Speedway.
Byrd is among nine “one-off” efforts and he admits, “It definitely is a challenge.”
They were up for the challenge Saturday during one-day time trials to determine positions 10-30 for the 103rd running of the Indianapolis 500 Sunday. Davison qualified Saturday at 228.273 and will start on the outside of the fifth row.
“This is such a team sport, and when you’re a one-off team, you don’t have the chemistry and momentum that the full-season teams do,” Davison, a second-generation driver said. “For my guys, as a group, to pull that off, I’m just so proud of them. “I feel like I’m on cloud nine.”
Davison also brings a bit of nostalgia to the Coyne-Byrd-Belardi entry by honoring his late grandfather, Gaze Davison, a decorated World War II Spitfire pilot who was honored with the Distinguished Flying Cross three times.
His helmet recognizes Gaze’s heroics with classic RAF colors with the Distinguished Flying Cross and two bars. Gaze Davison also became the first Australian driver in Formula I in 1952 at the Belgian Grand Prix.
The combined Byrd-Coyne-Belardi No. 33 entry picked up a new sponsor, SAFE, a revolutionary brand of antifreeze that is non-toxic. The company is owned by Bradley Miller who also owns businesses in Phoenix, Arizona.
Byrd’s best moment came in 1996 when Arie Luyendyk, driving for co-entrants John Treadway and Jonathan Byrd, set one-lap (237.498 mph) and four-lap (236.986 mph) that still stand. And later with Vogler-like charger Bryan Clauson, they led the 500 for the first time in 2016.
However, tragedy struck again as Clauson died in a racing accident later that same year.
They did not enter a race car for the 500 in 2017 race but returned last year with Davison to continue a racing legacy that began at the Speedrome and a food service legacy that began in Greenwood.