IRL: Lazier excited about return to Panther Racing

The Nashville Superspeedway creates, by the nature of its concrete surface and the track's unusual 1.33-mile distance different challenges for the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series teams, suppliers and drivers. This Saturday night's Firestone...

The Nashville Superspeedway creates, by the nature of its concrete surface and the track's unusual 1.33-mile distance different challenges for the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series teams, suppliers and drivers.

This Saturday night's Firestone Indy 200 is the midway point in the 2005 season and the Indy cars' fifth contest at Nashville. The inaugural race winner will return to the scene of his victory when Buddy Lazier rejoins Panther Racing for the second of three planned events in a #95 Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone entry.

Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2000 Indy Racing League champion has only one start thus far in the 2005 campaign, but it was an excellent outing for the Colorado native, who finished fourth in his 12th Indy 500 from ninth on the grid.

"I'm very fortunate to have this opportunity with Panther Racing and we're working on getting more opportunities as the season progresses," Lazier admitted. "Multiple-car teams are proving the way to go as Andretti Green Racing have proved with their four cars."

Lazier is looking forward to his Nashville Superspeedway return after being out of action there for the past couple of years. "The concrete surface is very unusual but it is similar to Dover, where the IRL ran in its first few years. "Nashville does have different characteristics; it's bumpy and it's short, yet it's a very fast track," he explained.

"You can't win here without good handling and good horsepower; you need both." Racing in Nashville in July means putting up with "grueling temperatures, even at night. It's a special part of the country with the center of country music near the track. Lots of the country music stars come out to watch the race."

The winner's trophy at Nashville is unique: a painted guitar. "They've improved the guitar since that first race," Lazier chided. "It's got a lot more paint than mine did. That trophy means a lot but it sure is hard to ship home on a plane as it doesn't fit in the overhead bins with the rest of the carry-on items," he laughed.

It's been about a month and a half since Lazier worked out in a race car but he has been training hard at his Vail home. It's also been a while since he raced at Nashville. Lazier thought the experience with Panther Racing was exceptional at Indy. "We worked so well together as teammates," he said.

Trying to build opportunities for himself, Lazier knew it was best "to go with a winning formula. I give all I've got and believe I can contribute to this team. There's a lot of good chemistry there and, with more cars, more engineering and more driving experience, I hope I can bring more data to the process."

It's been a tough year and a half for Panther Racing since Sam Hornish Jr., the 2001-2 IRL driving champion left to join Team Penske. Tomas Scheckter gave the team its first victory at Texas Motor Speedway in June and followed that success with a fourth place finish on the 3/4-mile Richmond International Raceway bullring and fifth a week and a half ago at Kansas Speedway.

"It's an honor to be Buddy's teammate this week and at Michigan," Scheckter pronounced. "He's a very, very intelligent driver and brings a lot of information to the team each time he gets in the car. He knows what the car is doing and feeling and that's a big help for everybody on this team. With Buddy on board, we get a chance for all three drivers to do a good job," including rookie Panther driver Tomas Enge.

It's been frustrating for Buddy Lazier to stop and start with his racing endeavors because, he believes, "human performance is better" with continuous work. "You always want to create opportunity for yourself and not take away from others. It's been tough not to race regularly but I know that teams like Panther need to expand and I'm not opposed to working hard to help them do that."

Lazier is excited about his second chance to drive for Panther this weekend. "It's great to have work and, let's face it, I'm not opposed to working hard. I'm used to working with [less than exceptional] equipment so I'm taking advantage of this: everything about this team is professional.

"I'm in the best shape of my life and I'm very hungry. I'll work very hard to win races and, quite frankly I've never thought of hanging up my helmet."

Because he's been with the Indy Racing League since its inception, Lazier has a good perspective on the League's success as it celebrates a tenth anniversary season. "Leadership is the number one factor in racing series' success. The 'big three' series are all run by individuals: Indy Racing League, Formula One and NASCAR.

"That is important. Tony is very committed to the League and to its future. It was an easy decision for me to make when I came over to the IRL. Like Eddie Cheever said, 'Either you race at Indy or you don't' and I wanted to race at Indy. I knew I had a good option to win in the IRL." Lazier did have an opportunity in the former CART series but chose to come here. "It's all about leadership and growing your business. Central leadership is really a strength."

This year's Indy 500 was "a very special race. I owe the team for making it very easy to come in as a new person. Sometimes you can do that and not have it feel open but we all shared info really well. All three of us were capable of winning and an environment like that makes the whole team better. I was treated in a first class manner," making the decision to return to Panther an easy one.

Lazier has taken the tough way up to IndyCar Series racing.  "It's the best
way," he confirmed.  "When you love what you do and really enjoy it, you
can't let anything stop you.  You have to make the best of your chances and
be hungry for future success.  It's not always perfect.

"Even with the pending departure of Chevrolet at the end of the season, Panther Racing is very attractive to other manufacturers because of their success." Added Tomas Scheckter: "Because we're the only Chevrolet team we can develop pieces for two (or in this case three) cars immediately and do a good job for Chevrolet. We don't have to develop for 10-12 cars. Panther is an unbelievable team with a great group of owners. They'll win no matter the engine maker."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Tomas Enge , Eddie Cheever , Buddy Lazier , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing , Team Penske