Byrd Family Patriarch Returns to Indianapolis Speedwayby Jim Amidon • March 25, 2005
Jonathan and David Byrd, a pair of Wabash graduates, teamed with Panther Racing to get 1996 winner Buddy Lazier into the field for the Indy 500. But they also wanted to honor their father who suffered a stroke last year.
Jonathan Byrd made his first public appearance Friday, May 20, since suffering a stroke last August.
Jonathan II, '97, and David, '98, not only want to win the Greatest Spectacle in Racing but honor their father. They hope to raise stroke awareness in motorsports and around the world. Many of the Panther crew members are wearing red armbands to support their effort.
When (Panther co-owner) Doug (Boles) told me about what the Byrd Brothers were trying to do," Panther CEO John Barnes said. "I told him to get it done. I didn’t care about the details; I just wanted to make it happen."
Lazier gave the Byrd family plenty to cheer about on qualifying weekend. He putting his car in the ninth starting spot with a four-lap average of 226.353 mph. The 37-year-old former winner has also garnered two seconds, a fourth and seventh place finish in the 500.
Byrd is rehabilitating in a Greenwood nursing home. Despite loss of the use of the right side of his body he understands what everbody is saying to him and despite a slight speech impairment, can communicate just fine according to the Panther Racing website.
"It was great to see Jonathan out here, Lazier said. It's just another reason I'm proud to be part of this team."
The partnership between Byrd Brothers and Panther Racing was announced at a press conference on March 24. "It feels like a return to the good old days at the beginning of the Indy Racing League," said Jonathan, a philosophy major and 1997 graduate of Wabash who is also the general manager of the family's successful Jonathan Byrd Cafeteria in Greenwood, Indiana.
Panther Racing is a two-time IndyCar Series Champion and is the winningest racing team in Indy Racing League history. "Buddy is a good friend to our family, so we're excited he'll be in the driver seat of the Jonathan Byrd's Cafeteria/Panther Racing/ESPN 950/Dallara/Chevrolet in the 2005 Indianapolis 500," said Jonathan.
"When Dad got sick, we got together and decided we needed to come together and step up," said Jonathan II. In addition to running the company's cafeteria and operations, Jonathan is also president of Raven Broadcasting, which recently purchased Indianapolis ESPN affiliate 950 AM. David Byrd, who majored in both philosophy and religion and graduated from Wabash in 1998, is the director of operations of Byrd Enterprises, which owns five hotels in Goodyear and Peoria, Arizona. David serves as vice president to his brother in Raven Broadcasting, Inc. .
Panther co-owner John Barnes is pleased to be working with the Wabash grads. "Everyone at Panther Racing is excited to have the Byrd Brothers join with us for this year's Indianapolis 500. The Byrd family has a long history at the Brickyard, and with this partnership, we are proud to be able to bring them back to the Speedway." Echoing those comments, Jonathan added, "Panther is such a fantastic racing team. My brother and I consider it an absolute privilege to be able to join with them to form Byrd Brothers/Panther Racing and return to Indianapolis to take another shot at winning the 500."
"Just to be able to have a car at the Indy 500 is a dream come true for me," David said. "With Buddy Lazier as the driver of that car, we believe that the dream of winning the Indy 500 is absolutely within reach."
Lazier, speaking about his opportunity with Byrd Brothers/Panther Racing, said, "After you get a win at Indianapolis, all you can think about is winning it again. Now that I'm going back to Indy with the resources of the Byrd Brothers/Panther team, Chevy power, and two great teammates, I believe that I can make it back to victory lane at the 500 this year."
At top: David Byrd ’98, Jonathan Byrd ’97, and Buddy Lazier.
Lower photo: From left, Panther owner Mike Griffin, David and Jonathan II, Panther owner John Barnes and wife Ginny.