Vail native Buddy Lazier wins the Indianapolis 500 25 years ago
As the engines turned on Sunday at the 105th Indianapolis 500 race, Buddy Lazier says the 80th annual event feels like it was yesterday.
Lazier, a native of Vail, won the 1996 event in what he called the luckiest year of his life. Nine weeks earlier, he had broken his spine in a horrific accident that had given him the chance to be alive and to walk. Five weeks later, he was in Vail’s Back Bowls on closing day, proposing to his wife, Kara. She said yes, and a month later, Lazier won the most coveted award in IndyCar racing.
“It was a hell of a month,” Lazier said Thursday. “I still can’t believe it.”
But amid memories of the 25th anniversary, this year is also painful as the memory of Buddy’s father, Bob Lazier, looms large in the family. Bob died in April 2020, one of the primary causes of COVID-19 that alerted residents of Vail to the severity of the pandemic.
“It was so hard on us as a family,” Lazier said.
The family, however, took comfort in knowing that Bob’s last moments were good for him. While in his hospital bed in Denver, the US Navy Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron performed aerial maneuvers in an area visible from his window.
“The day he was passing, they propped up his bed, opened the window, then they did a bunch of stunts and stuff right outside his window,” Buddy said. “I was just in tears thinking how good it must be for him… because he really liked high performance planes.
But high-performance planes were just one of Bob Lazier’s many passions. He was notably an IndyCar driver himself, competing in the 1981 Indianapolis 500. And if Bob Lazier instilled in the Lazier family enthusiasm for racing, the family’s enthusiasm for skiing is also the product. of Bob’s passion.
“Both seasons (skiing and driving) have complimented each other very well for us over the years,” said Buddy. “You’re in the middle of the winter season with all IndyCar gear closed, then you go into summer and the skis are all stowed away for the season, and the race cars are on.”
In 1986, Bob Lazier told the Vail Trail how Buddy got his start.
As a young child, “He made me promise that I would let him drive the race car when he was 16,” said Bob Lazier. “He got me attached to this.
Bob Lazier told the Vail Trail that in his own Indianapolis 500 appearance in 1981, he was driving a car that was not mechanically safe.
“The tree continued to break and the car turned left or right very quickly,” he said.
Fifteen years later, the Laziers said they knew in the 1996 season that they had a car that could win.
“Getting in the Ron Hemelgarn car with the Delta faucets was the first time I felt I had a car I could win the race with,” said Buddy. “You knew who was going to win the race even before the race started back then because the equipment was so much better on a handful of teams than the rest of the peloton.”
Using the knowledge inherited from his father’s experiences, Lazier achieved victory at the age of 28 and continued to play the sport for many years.
“We have always considered it a huge blessing that we can share these sports with each other,” said Buddy. “A lot of times you have families that don’t have the same interests, so it was really a gift to be able to do these things together, not just with two generations, but with three.”
With Kara’s last name as its namesake, Flinn Lazier, the son of Buddy and Kara, is now a race car driver, participating in events like the Indy Lights. Flinn won the Formula Atlantic championship in 2019.
“Without COVID, I think he would really be in a great place right now, because he had a huge amount of momentum behind him,” Buddy said of Flinn. “They canceled the Indy Lights season and he lost some sponsors.”
As his 21-year-old son struggles to get back to racing, Buddy says at 53, he himself may not have gotten out of it yet. He last competed in an Indianapolis 500 event five years ago, in 2016.
“I have the strangest feeling that I haven’t finished driving racing cars yet,” he said.