Thursday, December 10, 2009

Q&A With Jonathan Byrd II

His father was the car owner of 16 Indianapolis 500 entries, including Arie Luyendyk's 1996 Qualification record holder. Teaming with A.J. Foyt, he helped John Andretti become the first ever to run the double on Memorial Day weekend. Drivers like Stan Fox, Gordon Johncock, Buddy Lazier, and Scott Brayton have driven for him. Now his son, Jonathan Byrd II is looking to follow in his father's footsteps with a 2010 Indianapolis 500 entry.

16th And Georgetown: Growing up, your father's teams accomplished a lot. 16 Indy 500 starts with 7 top 10's finishes and the All-time qualification record with Arie Luyendyk in 1996 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just to name a few. What are some of your favorite Racing memories growing up?

Jonathan Byrd II: Well there are really so many. We got our start back in 1982 at the Speedrome on the southeast side and traveling the country as we got to the United states Auto Club midgets and to be apart of huge national Championships was always great. Another great memory was having Darrell Waltrip drive one of dad's stock cars at the Speedrome back in 1984, we did that 4 or 5 times. He's been a great family friend for all these years. Some of my closest memories are from when we started competing full-time in the Indycar Series, being able to participate in the team. I was a spotter for many races for the Jonathan Byrd cars. Winning that Texas race in 1998 was really exciting. Having the all-time track record is something that we've always been proud of, a record that'll never be broken, that'll always be Jonathan Byrd's Cafeteria car. Those are some things that I've always enjoyed about our racing experiences.

16th And Georgetown: It was mentioned on Indycar.com the possibility of a 2010 Indy 500 entry? Does it look like it's gonna happen or is it still just a dream at this point?

Jonathan Byrd II: Well, it's definitely a dream but it's something I'm working on to hopefully have a dream come true again. I really feel like this is what I'm supposed to be doing, kind of taking on my father's work of bearing of his burdens but also combining it with his love of racing, with the Indy 500 and Indycar Racing in particular. Try to do something innovative and unique that will deliver more sponsor exposure for any potential sponsors we have. I've put together a great program, it'll be coming out over the next week or so our intentions, how were gonna do it, what were gonna do to do it. The first big shoe to drop is my meeting that I had with Paul Teutul jr. of American Chopper fame, the show on TLC. I'll be one of the segments on that show on Thursday, December 17th at 9 p.m. on TLC. It was a great meeting, I look forward to seeing how it was portraid on the show. But yea, it's something that I believe is my destiny to be involved in racing full-time again, whether it's with our own team or if it's a 2nd or 3rd entry on another team with the Jonathan Byrd name on the car again, that would be great.

16th And Georgetown: If you were to field an entry, would you look at a young up-and-comer like J.R. Hildebrand, or would would you go with a proven veteran like a Buddy Rice?

Jonathan Byrd II: If it was totally all up to me, about what I wanted to do, we had a fantastic experience back in 2005 with Buddy Lazier in that 3rd Panther entry in the 500. It delivered our families best start/finish of 9th and 5th and that was a magical month of May. I'm not just going to the 500 to just make the race. I wanna go there and have a shot to win. A rookie has won the 500 before, so it's not like it can't occur but a grizzled veteran is someone that I wouldn't mind having. It just depends how the team is put together and how they get along and what they can bring. Someone like a Buddy Lazier type, or Davey Hamilton type, or even a Buddy Rice type, those are guys that have always had success that know the 500 and know the Speedway. They can tune the car, make the race in a good starting spot and ride those first 400 miles keeping the nose to run the last 100 miles. In the future, if things go how I hope it will go, what I hope to do is follow in the footsteps of what my dad did. We always brought the short track guy and took care of the guys who never had that shot before. Whether it was Rich Vogler or Stan Fox, or taking a guy who was washed up in many peoples minds, we took John Paul jr. to victory at Texas. Or if it's the veteran who was rejected from the CART people. We took Arie Luyendyk to become the fastest Indycar driver in the World, ever. That's kind of what our family has done, we want to see the short track guys succeed. We want to see someone like a Brad Kuhn who deserves a shot in the 500, a Tracy Hines guy. Those are the guys who have got the pedigree that the 500 was all about, the short track guy, the dirt midget guy, give them that shot. That's what I would love to be able to do. Create some kind of testing program and get it to a point where that can happen.

For this 500 I'll probably lean toward experience, someone that knows how to race the Speedway, take a chance and win. I've heard nothing but great things about Hildebrand, there is a lot of great up and coming guys, I just don't know them. Once I know their spirit, and if they fit into what were trying to do with the bearing of his burdens and that spirit of wanting to help other people and representing our sponsors to the best of there ability and do our brand justice. Those are the kind of people I'm looking at.

16th And Georgetown: Your Twitter bio says "future Indy 500 winning car owner". What would that mean to you to win the Indianapolis 500?

Jonathan Byrd II: It definitely would be a fulfilment of a lifelong dream. In the end that's what is really cool about our race team, more than anything, is that we can finish dead last, crash and not even finish a lap and you could come up to me and say "hey it was a tough weekend Jonathan" and I would say "No, this is the best weekend of racing we've ever had, because we helped bear a lot of other peoples burdens. We helped whether it was build somebody a house or provided a whole street with something like heating and air conditioning. More than anything, that's what I hope the legacy of our team does. "We'll get them next year at the 500". But none the less it would be a fulfilment of a dream and we could even do more with an Indy 500 win and the Borg Warner trophy sitting on my desk. As long as we are bearing others burdens. We're living out the philosophy of my dad and his life and all of those types of things, that's what means more to me than trophies and stuff. Trophies come and they go, but what you do for others will last into internity.

16th And Georgetown: 2012 looks to be the year of the next generation Indycar. What do you want to see in the new car, and would u like to see it capable of breaking Arie's 1996 record of nearly 237mph at Indianapolis?

Jonathan Byrd II I'd say it's 2012, it's pretty much a done deal. If it can break the record, I want to be the one to do it, since my family has held the record for going on 15 years now. I don't want to see it happen, I've always told people that it's a record that will never be broken, they'll never let the cars go that fast again. Selfishly I hope the record is never broken, because that was my dad's car and I want to see my dad's car have that legacy in racing.


great!!! glad to have the byrds back

Great interview. Sometimes those of us over the age of 40 bring up the past with the "Boy, if they only brought back (insert name here) things would be better" line...but the return of the Byrd family would definitely be a shot in the arm for Indycar. Let's hope they return.

Good for the Byrd family.

They "get it".

As for 2010, I could certainly see a partnership between Panther Racing, Davey Hamilton and HP for the Indy 500. Probably will be Davey's last Indy 500, so he wants to go out with a solid effort. Panther would give him that.

I actually believe JB II when he says that he will bring up American short-track talent for his team in the future. His dad was one of the few with the brains and forsight to see where the talent was at and actually HIRE them to race at Indy. His sons will likely do the same.

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