Senior staff writer
Indianapolis Speedrome owner Kevin Garrigus and track president Jonathan Byrd II have one goal for the historic race track at Kitley Avenue and Brookville Road.
“We want to make the Speedrome great again,” Byrd said.
Garrigus, a longtime car owner at the Speedrome, purchased the track last month, becoming only the sixth owner of the track, which was built in 1941. Garrigus owns Advance Auto Sales with two locations on the Southside, and Byrd is a Greenwood native who grew up at the Speedrome with his dad, the late Jonathan Byrd, a longtime sponsor of race cars and events.
Multiple improvements are under way: new rest rooms and concession stands, an improved and expanded pit area, an improved tech building, a video board for spectators and the return of the popular fireworks night.
Byrd addressed the renovation’s during the track’s recent awards banquet on the Southside as he rolled out Garrigus’ vision for the track. “It’s time for the facility and its image to begin a return to glory,” Byrd said. “We want the Speedrome to be great for another 75 years.”
They want to make the drivers more accessible by expanding the winner’s circle and inviting fans into the pits at most events. Late model racing will resume on the oval as well as the famed high-speed figure-8s.
“We understand the entertainment aspect of racing,” Byrd said. “We want to build the fan base. We have a great race track and our drivers and teams deserve to race in front of thousands of fans instead of hundreds. This is a new day for the Speedrome.”
The track opens April 1 with special events to include the inaugural 90-minute Figure-8 May 27 on the night before the Indianapolis 500; 37th annual Sonny Thompson Memorial Figure-8 July 22; 41st annual One-Hour Figure-8 Aug. 26; and 41st annual World Championship Figure-8 Sept. 9.
“It is literally a dream come true to have this opportunity with Kevin Garrigus,” Byrd said. “Ever since I set foot at the Speedrome I’ve always loved it. I have my love of racing because of the Speedrome.”
The Byrd family legacy at the Speedrome began in the late 1970s with patriarch Jonathan Byrd’s sponsorship of a late model for driver Jim Begley of Greenwood and later for USAC midget car driver Rich Vogler, who won two USAC chapionships at the Speedrome. Through Kentucky Fried Chicken and Jonathan Byrd’s Cafeteria, Byrd sponsored the qualifying races for the track’s prestigious World Championship Figure-8, an annual three-hour figure-8.
The family’s sponsorship activity advanced to a national motor sports level with two U.S. Auto Club midget car championships, one- and four-lap qualifying records at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1996 by Arie Luyendyk, sponsorship of John Andretti to race in the Indy 500 and NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte on the same day in 1994, winning two IndyCar Series races and finally leading the Indy 500 last year for the first time with the late Bryan Clauson.
Byrd said the KFC sponsorship marked the first time that a human likeness (Col. Sanders) appeared on a race car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Byrd, brother David Byrd and mother Ginny Byrd are owners of Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality and Restaurant Group and Jonathan Byrd’s Racing and will sponsor a car for the Indy 500.
“The Speedrome is the foundation for everything we’ve done in racing because of our championship involvement there years ago,” Byrd said. “None of what we have done would have never happened if it weren’t for that little corner of heaven at the track at the corner of Kitley Avenue and Brookville Road.”
Editor’s note: Stilley is a member of the Speedrome Hall of Fame and news director emeritus of the track.