Senior staff writer
The late Jonathan Byrd’s legacy at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway reached a milestone earlier this month.
A race car sponsored Jonathan Byrd Racing and driven by second-generation driver Conor Daly led laps for the first time at the Speedway.
“It was so exciting,” exclaimed Ginny Byrd, Jonathan’s widow. “I was taking pictures; I was freaking out.”
Ginny and sons Jonathan II and David were in car owner Dale Coyne’s pit during the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis when Daly passed Helio Castroneves for the lead on Lap 46 and held it for 13 more laps. They jumped and exchanged hugs.
Although it wasn’t the 500, the Jonathan Byrd Racing livery was leading the pack after the Byrd family had co-entered or sponsored race cars for 16 500-mile races.
Daly finished sixth in the road course race but then looked at switching rides for the Indianapolis 500 in the Coyne-owned No. 18 Shirts for America Honda.
Hoosier-born, open-wheel veteran Bryan Clauson moved into the seat of the No. 88 Cancer Treatment Centers of America, co-entered for the 500 by Coyne and Byrd Family Racing.
The late Jonathan Byrd’s forays in motor sports began in the early 1980s when his Kentucky Fried Chicken locations in Johnson County sponsored Jim Begley in oval and figure-8 races at the Indianapolis Speedrome.
Byrd moved into sponsoring a midget car for Rich Vogler at the Speedrome, which led to their first 500 in 1985. Byrd’s cars were in the 500 for 14 of 15 years and resumed with Buddy Lazier, who finished a Jonathan Byrd Racing-best fifth place in 2005, and Clauson last year.
Ginny Byrd firmly believes Clauson is a perfect fit.
“When I see Bryan Clauson in a midget or a sprint car, it’s like watching Rich Vogler all over again,” the family matriarch said. “Rich just didn’t climb into the car and drive; he strapped it on and ran with it. Bryan’s doing that Circular Insanity Tour of 200 races in one year. He’s a true racer who really loves the sport.”
Clauson is following the tire tracks of Vogler, the multiple-time USAC champion who was killed in a racing accident at Salem Speedway in 1989, the same year he finished a career-best eighth in the 500.
“There are so many people who still remember our first racing effort with Rich and the drivers who followed after that,” Ginny said. “The boys (Jonathan II and David) grew up with racing, and they love it as much or even more as their dad loved it.”
The Byrd’s love of racing and their legacy add up to a lot of pride with Clauson for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.
“No doubt about it, we can be competitive,” Jonathan Byrd II said.
Clausen will start from a career-best 28th position.