Will Power (left) pumps his fist after winning his first Indy 500, the 17th for team owner Roger Penske. Power’s wife, Liz, equally excited about the win, gives her man a victory kiss. SOUTHSIDER VOICE PHOTOS BY NATHAN PACE
SOUTHSIDER VOICE PHOTOS BY AL STILLEY Jonathan Byrd Racing matriarch Ginny Byrd and sons David (left)and Jonathan Byrd II returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway as team co-owners after a year’s absence from the race. They are continuing the legacy of the late Jonathan Byrd, who began his sponsorship of race cars at the Indianapolis Speedrome.
By Al Stilley
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.
SOUTHSIDER VOICE PHOTOS BY AL STILLEY David Letterman and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal (right) compare beards during a press conference at the IMS. They are team co-owners of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with drivers Graham Rahal, son of the former winner, and 2017 Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato.
By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
Indianapolis icon and IndyCar team co-owner David Letterman made an emotional return to his roots earlier this month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I’m very happy to be from this state,” Letterman said. “I have a deep rigid, long strong relationship with this place; sometimes it’s hard to articulate what it means.”
Letterman’s first appearance was with team co-owners Mike Lanigan and Bobby Rahal and driver Graham Rahal, who helped explain the team’s support of SoldierStrong and Turns for Troops on the No. 15 United Rentals entry and the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic entry for reigning 500 champion Takuma Sato.
The team is donating $50 per completed lap by the two cars in the IndyCar Grand Prix and the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.
Donations have been made to SoldierStrong, which have enabled the organization to purchase three exoskeletons, used to help severely wounded veterans walk again. SoldierStrong also provides funds for advanced technologies for helping the rehabilitation of wounded veterans.
Letterman, 71, has been a team co-owner since 1996 and continues to be a popular personality at the Speedway.
“To me, my world is Indiana,” said Letterman, who lived here for 27 years. “I was born and raised here, my family born and raised here, Mom and Dad and grandparents from Indiana.”
He started his broadcasting career on a local radio talk show and at WSBT-TV at Ball State University, where the communications building is named in his honor. He was a late-night talk show host for 33 years.
Danica’s version of ‘The Double’
Danica Patrick verified last weekend that her IndyCar career is indeed relevant.
Patrick, who is on her “Danica Double” tour (Daytona and Indianapolis) before retiring, was among the Fast Nine for pole position Sunday. She wound up seventh at 228.090 mph in the GoDaddy-sponsored Dallara/Chevrolet.
“The end of the day (Saturday) was very stressful,” said Patrick. “There’s been such a gap in time to come back to downforce.”
Patrick’s 500 effort is with Ed Carpenter Racing, which has three cars in the first three rows: Carpenter is on the pole for the third time at 229.618 mph and Spencer Pigot, sixth at 228.107 mph.
Patrick made her name at the Indianapolis 500 as the 2005 Rookie of the Year and finished third in 2009. She won her only Verizon Indycar race in Japan. Her NASCAR career was not as spectacular although she started on the pole in the Daytona 500.
“Most of the races weren’t like that (Daytona 500),” Patrick said. “I missed being relevant.”
Beginning in 2021, IndyCar engines will have a new configuration that will produce 100 more horsepower than current engines. The twin-turbocharged V-6 engines will increase in size from 2.2 liters to 2.4 liters. Engines will continue to turn a maximum of 12,000 rpm.
Series officials are hopeful that the new engine formula will attract more manufacturers to the series.
NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray, who drives for co-team owner Chip Ganassi, was involved in a spectacular crash earlier this month at Dover (Delaware) International Speedway. McMurray survived several rollovers without serious injury.
Shortly after the accident, IndyCar Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon, who was involved in a airborne crash in last year’s 500, sent McMurray a text to see if McMurray was OK.
“I sent him the laughing emoji back, I’m like, ‘I have nothing on
you,’ ” McMurray recalled.
Carb and race days
Miller Lite Carb Day is Friday. Gates open at 8 a.m. with a one-hour final practice for the 500 at 11 a.m. The Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 is at 12:30 p.m.; the Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge starts at 1:30 p.m.
Race day gates open at 6 a.m. Sunday with driver introductions at 11:38 a.m. and green flag at 12:21 p.m.
Pace car driver
Indiana Pacers star Victor Oladipo will be the pace car driver behind the wheel of the 2019 Corvette ZR1. Oladipo was named to the All-Star team for the first time and led the Pacers’ turnaround with 23.1 points per game as they reached the playoffs. He is a candidate for this year’s Most Improved Player.
This is the 15th time a Corvette has been selected as the pace car and the 29th time a Chevrolet will lead the pack.
National anthem singer
Singer and TV personality Kelly Clarkson will sing the national anthem.
Winners in the field
The starting lineup features six former winners: starting eighth, Helio Castroneves (2001, ’02, ’09); ninth, Scott Dixon (’08); 10th, Tony Kanaan (’13); 14th, Ryan Hunter-Reay (’14); 16th, Takuma Sato (’17); and 32nd, Alexander Rossi (’16). Castroneves can become a fourth-time winner and join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr. and Rick Mears.
Team owner Roger Penske has 16 wins, beginning in 1972 with Mark Donahue; Andretti Autosport, headed by Michael Andretti, has six; A.J. Foyt, five; and Chip Ganassi, four.
Rookies in the field
Four rookies qualified: Brazilian Mathias Liest, 11th; Canadian Claman De Milo, 13th; Californian Kyle Kaiser, 17th; and Canadian Robert Wickens, 18th.
The last rookie to win the race was Rossi in 2016. Castroneves won his first 500 as a rookie in 2001.
Ed Carpenter, the only owner-driver competing in the 102nd running of the Indy 500, won his third pole Sunday with a speed of 229.618 mph. His other poles came in 2013 and ’14.
Carpenter, looking to win his first Indy 500, has a best finish of fifth in 2008. He was eighth in 2009 and has finished 11th three times.
His team, Ed Carpenter Racing, is also fielding Danica Patrick and Spencer Pigot.
SOUTHSIDER VOICE PHOTOS
BY BRETT HICKMAN
By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
Longtime Indianapolis 500 team owner Dennis Reinbold would like nothing better than to return to the Verizon IndyCar Series full time.
He founded Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 1999 and promptly won a race with Robbie Buhl in Orlando, Fla., in 2000. His team competed in the series until 2013 and has concentrated on a one-off effort for the Indianapolis 500.
Reinbold, owner of the Dreyer and Reinbold Greenwood auto dealership on U.S. 31, has seen a revival of the Indianapolis 500 with the 100th running two years ago and sees renewed interest in the open-wheel series.
“You got a lot more depth of teams that came in,” Reinbold said earlier this month. “Right now, IndyCar is growing. You can see it. You can feel it. … It’s a great place to be right now.
“I guess the fact that there are so many good teams and better-prepared teams, way better prepared than the early days, the field is way deeper than it was before by a long shot. That makes it harder to win. It makes it more competitive.”
He intimated that team owners meetings of today are far less contentious than meetings of previous years, and he is greatly impressed with the open dialogue that has resulted in the new aero package for today’s race cars.
“A lot of head-butting was going on; IndyCar is poised for the future, very well,” Reinbold said.
Then he turned his attention to the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.
DRR has two cars in the field: No. 24 WIX Filters DRR/Chevrolet with Sage Karam, starting 24th after qualifying at 225.823 mph, and the No. 86 Salesforce DRR/Chevrolet with JR Hildebrand, starting 27th after qualifying 225.418 mph.
The only one-off team in the 500, DDR has its first multiple-car team at Indy since 2011. During the offseason DRR bought enough parts to field two entries. Karam is with the team for his fourth 500 and Hildebrand for the second time.
“If we can get the new car running like the old car the past few years, we can contend with the top teams,” Reinbold said. “I’m not being cocky in saying that I believe Sage and JR can race up front this year.”
Reinbold’s grandfather, legendary flat-track motorcycle racer Floyd “Pop” Dreyer, served as a crewman on the famed Duesenberg racing team dating back to 1927.
DRR has had 37 different drivers in the Indy 500. Oriol Servia finished fourth in 2012 for the team’s best finish.
The team won the 2016 Red Bull Global Rallycross Lights championship and is in the new GRX rally series this season.
(Editor’s note: Tom Blattler of DRR contributed to this article.)
By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
Is there a European race car driver who is more of a fan of American racing than two-time Formula One champion and 2017 Indianapolis 500 darling Fernando Alonso?
Seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is sure there isn’t.
Alonso proved it to the American racing star during the NASCAR Media Tour at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He made it a point to meet Johnson, who was humbled by the experience.
“I’ve been a huge Alonso fan for a lot of years,” Johnson said. “Just mentioned to him that the way he came and ran Indy, I mean, certainly did an amazing job in the car, but outside the car … he brought a lot to the table when he raced here.”
Alonso stopped at the Charlotte Convention Center with his teammates who raced in the Rolex 24-hour road course race at Daytona International Speedway.
“I first became a fan through the NASCAR video games,” said Alonzo of Johnson. “I would always choose his car (No. 48) because I liked it. That was the first time I became a fan and obviously with the success he’s had over the years in motor racing, he’s become a legend in our sport. I have massive respect for him.”
Johnson was taken aback by Alonso’s desire to meet him.
“I’m honored I found out that one of his major stipulations of coming here (Charlotte) was to have a chance to meet me; that means the world to me,” Johnson said. “It was an honor to meet him.”
Alonso expressed a desire to compete in the Cup race on the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Retired two-time Brickyard 400 winner Dale Jarrett was among the drivers for media passengers last month in Toyota Camrys on the 2.26-mile Roval road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Jarrett offered that it will be challenging for drivers as there are few places to pass and a couple of blind corners.
He gave a heartfelt presentation during the induction of the late famed engine builder Robert Yates into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Yates, who was 74 when he died in October, wrote his induction letter, which Jarrett read to the audience and members of Yates’ family.
Jarrett won the Brickyard 400 in 1996 and ’99 and was the Cup champion in ’99. The team is credited with the winner’s tradition of kissing the bricks.
Two-time Brickyard 400 winner Kyle Busch expressed his dislike of NASCAR’s publicity of up-and-coming drivers in its Cup Series.
The outspoken 2015 Cup champion contended that veterans are being overlooked in favor of young chargers like Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Bubba Pollard, William Byron and Busch’s teammates, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez.
“We (veterans) have paid our dues,” Busch said. “All you’re doing is advertising all these younger drivers for fans to figure out and pick up on and choose as their favorite driver. I think it’s stupid.”
While making his remarks about the newer drivers, Busch apparently forgot the he was part of Gillette’s Young Guns commercials and a subject of an A&E network special during his first few years in Cup.
Other drivers took quick notice of Busch’s comments.
Two-time Brickyard 400 winner Kevin Harvick said Busch was “whining for attention.” Second-generation driver Ryan Blaney explained that “he (Busch) doesn’t like doing a lot of stuff; that’s why they don’t ask him.”
The younger drivers also utilize social media to connect with fans.
Busch also expressed his displeasure of sharing information with teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing or seeing team data fed into a NASCAR data bank.
He did praise ex-teammate Matt Kenseth, who could not land a ride this season, for helping him reach the final three races in The Chase for three straight years.
Defending NASCAR Cup champion Martin Truex Jr. has a knack for going fast on the track and getting to the track in his Beechjet 400A. Truex is a spokesman for Garmin, which has supported the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation for underfunded cancer initiatives related to ovarian and childhood cancers.
By Al Stilley
Senior staff writer
Defending Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne admitted that he was the most exhausted he had ever been after capturing the 400-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Totally exhausted,” Kahne said during the NASCAR Media Tour at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I’ve been pretty bad after some races, but not at that level. It was tough. I don’t think I’ve ever been that dehydrated for sure. I was so worn out (because) of how hot it is.”
Kahne’s latter comment is one of the reasons that drivers welcome the new date of Sept. 9. The 400 is the final event to determine the 16-driver field for The Chase.
“Moving the race will give the fans an opportunity to enjoy it without the heat,” Kahne said. “The cars were hot; it was so hot and humid outside. So to move it and hopefully give some of these fans trying to watch a NASCAR race an opportunity to maybe enjoy it. I think it’s a good thing.”
Kahne said he believes that drivers who have not qualified for The Chase won’t be at a disadvantage because the setups at Indy are similar to Richmond (Va.) Speedway, which previously held the last race to set the field for The Chase.
The 400 was Kahne’s only Cup win last year in his final season with Hendrick Motorsports. He was replaced by rookie William Byron.
“To win Indy was nice,” Kahne said. “I’d been close there since I came into the sport, for whatever reason. … Every year we’ve been in the mix. So to finally win it was a great feeling. I’ll carry that win forever because that will be one of my biggest wins I get in racing.”
Kahne searched for a team and wound up with much smaller Leavine Racing and the No. 95 Chevrolet. The team utilizes Richard Childress Racing chassis and Childress Earnhardt Racing engines. He goes into the Daytona 500 with the new Camaro ZL 1
He is unfazed by being with his smallest team since Team Red Bull.
“I love every break that I’ve had in this sport and the opportunities that I’ve had to be part of it for so long,” Kahne said. “And again this year, it’s the same thing. I have a great opportunity.”
The three-time Coca-Cola 600 winner is in his 15th Cup campaign and has had 18 wins and 21 poles in more than 500 starts. The 2004 NASCAR Cup Rookie of the Year continues to be among the series’ most poplar drivers.
With so many young drivers competing, Kahne said he believes there are kids who have the same dream that he had of becoming a full-time driver. He recalled being a kid with that same desire. He and his dad on Sundays would get up early, eat breakfast, turn the TV on at 9 a.m. (West Coast) and watch races.
Kahne has raced for the top owners, including the late Robert Yates, Ray Evernham, Richard Petty and Rick Hendrick.
Kahne continues to own a World of Outlaws winged sprint car team with drivers Daryn Pittman and Brad Sweet. Kahne and Pittman won the 2013 WoO title. Kahne plans to race in the first five WoO races in Florida and about 20 more races throughout the season. He also owns USAC midget and sprint cars teams.
“I wish there were more people that were involved and intrigued by it (NASCAR) and wanted to be part of it,” Kahne said. “I wish we could get back to that for the excitement level, but I still think the racing is very good. It’s super competitive.”
Kahne is optimistic he can be competitive even with a small team.
SOUTHSIDER VOICE PHOTOS BY AL STILLEY
The NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., features Lightning McQueen from “Cars,” with background on the vehicles in the animated movies that were inspired by various NASCAR personalities. Artists sketches for the movies are part of the display. Among the personalities included Paul Newman, Louise Smith, NASCAR’s first woman driver, car builder Smokey Yunick and ESPN’s Shannon Spake.
The hall also features the trophy clock that Ron Hornaday Jr. won in the 2000 Busch Series race at Lucas Oil Raceway, previously Indianapolis Raceway Park, in Brownsburg.
It is part of a display honoring four-time NASCAR truck series champion Hornaday, who was inducted into the hall earlier this year. He is the first West Coast and truck series driver to be inducted.
Al Stilley is the senior sports writer for the Southsider Voice and has years of experience covering motorsports.