IRL: Indy500: Buddy Lazier press conference, Part I

Host: Pat Sullivan Guest: Buddy Lazier Pat Sullican: We're delighted to have Buddy with us. Obviously, he comes in as the defending Indy Racing Northern Light Series champion, the only driver to win two events last year. But beyond that, he's...

Host:   Pat Sullivan
Guest:  Buddy Lazier

Pat Sullican: We're delighted to have Buddy with us. Obviously, he comes in as the defending Indy Racing Northern Light Series champion, the only driver to win two events last year. But beyond that, he's not only a defending or I should say a former Indianapolis 500 winner, but in the last five years, he has amassed one of the best records really in the history of the Speedway. This place has been a track that has been good to Buddy in part because Buddy is very good on it. Last year, in fact, a lot of people may have overlooked this. In spite of the fact that Juan Montoya won the race, the fact of the matter is Buddy turned the fastest lap of the event and that lap was turned on something like 197 or 198. So Buddy was closing very, very fast. Buddy, you've always done very, very well here. You've got a solid starting position for the 85th running of the event. As we mentioned before, your success here really speaks for itself. You look to be in pretty good shape.

Buddy LazierR: Yeah. I mean, the month has gone well for us. Sorry, I'm a little sick to my stomach for some reason. This time of the month before the race is always hard on a driver. Even though most of our work is done, it is still pretty stressful. Even though I think this will be my ninth start, so at 33 years old, I feel like I still have the youth factor, but at the same time I've got a lot of experience. So I feel comfortable in that way. But, you know, you never get over those butterflies and the pressure you feel. You know, it doesn't go away until after driver introductions when you're buckled into your car and you're getting ready to roll off. No matter how early I am and how prepared, I'm always a little late it seems like. You're just running late and I think it's just the nature of how much we have to do this month. Even though it all boils down to a race, there's still a lot of activities that affect the psyche and the mind-set of the driver. We can't really a hundred percent focus on the race until we're getting buckled in. So I'm kind of looking forward to that period of time. But I'm upset to my stomach today and I don't think it's because of something I ate. I think it's just anticipation. I can't believe after this many years of racing, you still get that.

Sullivan: Buddy, you made really I think an excellent point and it's one that caught my eye as I compile statistics, the fact that you're 33, you've been a veteran here. You take a look at the likes of the Unser brothers who won here at age 47, I mean I don't know where your passion or drive is and how long you think that can sustain, but the fact of the matter is, is that there could be many more years left in this career and one in which you have already done some big things here.

Lazier: Well, you know, I hope so. You always hear drivers saying that they will race as long as they enjoy it and I think that's just so true. I mean, there's a lot of work that I guess people don't see. This has become, as it always has been, I think, really a year-round thing. I mean you're training year round. You're preparing -- at the end of this month, I mean, basically come June 1st you're already starting to prepare for next year's Indy 500. Everything I do in the off-season is all about trying to be a better race driver when I come to Indianapolis for the Indy 500. I know other drivers who have spoken of it. It's just so true. Your mind is always on the Indy 500; and at 33 years old -- you know, we hear a lot about some of the youth and the young drivers, and there's some awesome talent tearing up the racetrack, but I think I've still got some youthfulness in me, too. So I'm not an old veteran, but at the same time I can't really call myself a rookie anymore either. I mean, nine starts, you know. I feel for some of the guys that didn't make the race because it is so tough. The fields are so difficult and I feel for them because there were four times -- I was thinking just a couple days ago, I went back in my mind and there were four times I came here with cars and teams that just weren't quick enough to make the race. So I missed this race four times. I feel for some of the guys that I know have talent, have the capability some day to come back here and win the race that didn't make it this year. So I do feel for those guys. I've won the race, I finished second twice and I finished last in my rookie year. So I feel like I've got a pretty good feeling of the whole spectrum of experience. For those who did not make the race, you can come back and make it and win; I'm living proof. And I think there's a lot of past winners and guys who have gone on to win a race that didn't make a few races, too. So qualifying for this race is so tough; and it isn't necessarily that the driver wasn't, it's just that the driver/car/engine/team combination wasn't quick enough to make the race. But that doesn't mean that that driver or that engineer is not good enough. So I feel for those guys. Going back, we're about to start the big event but there are some guys that are good enough to be in the race that didn't make it.

What are the numbers? You won in '96, the only time you fell out of the top five was seventh I believe in maybe '99. You got two seconds, finished second last year. You've got a streak going that's probably equal to Rodger Ward in the late '50s or early '60s. So does that make you feel like your second victory is that much closer?

Lazier: It does because when you're running consistently like that, I feel like it's just a matter of time until the yellows or something falls your way. If you're capable of running up front towards the front and you're one of the guys who could win the race, it's just a matter of almost circumstance. Will the yellows fall for your strategy? I mean how things will fall out strategically. In my mind, I think of it as like rolling the dice. As long as you're a player, to be a player you've got to have a good race car. That's a testament to how good my race team is, too. That record is not just my record or that string of successes is my team, too. I've been with the same team that whole period of time. I've really got to give them credit and Ron Hemelgarn credit for giving me what I need, the tools. It's a great team. So I feel a certain level of comfort knowing that I'm going to have the best that I can get from those guys. They want this race so bad, you can't believe it. When you win here, you think -- you know, you grow up as a young man in America and you dream of racing at the Indy 500; some day you qualify, you know, if that's been your life work. Then when you qualify, you know, you dream of winning it and you dare to dream to win it. When you actually do win it, the most wonderful thing, you would think that that would somewhat diminish the passion that you have for winning it or the hunger. But, believe me, this race so exceeds expectations and it is such a wonderful thing to win. It makes you want to win it that much more and it makes you even more hungry. I can tell you I want to win this race so bad. Part of maybe the string that we've had is the fact that we want to repeat that victory so badly. We've been so close now so many times. It's difficult sometimes to take second. It's wonderful, it's such a mix of emotions because you feel so wonderful because you know you could have won. If you take second, slightly different circumstances in this race, you probably could have won. We ran our fastest lap of the race, as you mentioned, at the very end. So we knew we had the car that could have struck. But it's kind of like rolling the dice. Each time you roll it, it's going to come up different. So I feel like whoever wins on Sunday, hopefully it's us, you could probably roll the dice and the yellows and the fuel strategy, the pit windows would have fallen slightly different and somebody else could have won it the next day. That's a testament I think to how close the competition is in the Indy Racing League. There's any one of -- really any one of the 33 cars has a very good chance of winning this race; and I would say any one of about 20 have a very good chance.

Does your stomach feel this way before any other race? Well, you'd worry if it wasn't hurting?

Lazier: You know, as the week goes on, as I get closer to the race, I'm sure my stomach will feel better. But, no, there's no other race like the Indy 500. It certainly would not feel like this at any of the other races. There's no way. I mean it's just that big of an event and there's just that much on the line. As soon as I strap in the car, I feel good. I'm ready to go.

Buddy, when you talk about this being such a big race and last year Ganassi came over, this year there are more CART drivers and car owners here, what impact does that have on the feeling around here? And what do you anticipate it will have on the feeling for the winner after the race?

Lazier: Well, I can't say how it's going to feel for the winner after the race. But to me it's just really -- I mean everybody who is racing here is in Indy Racing League cars, Indy Racing League equipment and I really do view them -- and maybe it's like mulling the whole thing over but I view them as just really good, some more really good IRL teams. To me that's an IRL team because they've got the IRL equipment and they're racing under IRL rules. Now, there's no question that there are a lot of teams that have huge amount of experience and resources. So you view them as great race teams. So to me it's just there's some more great race teams that are IRL teams. I can't view them as anything different because we're racing under our rules, the IRL rules.

But having them all here come Sunday, how do you think you'll respond --

Lazier: But to say that is kind of assuming that the competition wasn't as strong when they weren't there; and I don't feel that way. I feel like the Indy Racing League, the talent that's here and some of the young drivers but also maybe some of the drivers that didn't have a chance before because -- I mean, for so many years when I was racing before the Indy Racing League came along, before practice even started you knew who was going to win the race. Within one or two people, you knew, or one or two teams because they had dominant packages, dominant teams, dominant horsepower, cars. There were times that you almost wonder why you even run the race. It was kind of like you knew they had a dominant package. Now you don't have that. Everybody here is playing on somewhat of an even playing field. I mean some guys can maybe test a little more in the off-season but it's not unsurmountable. I mean, we started at Phoenix last year at the very back of the field and we were still able to win the race because we had an awesome race car and we did everything right on race day. That's who's going to win this race. Whoever has an awesome package setup-wise and whoever does the best job on race day is going to win. To me that's exciting. To me that's what open-wheel racing was lacking. So I feel like the competition is very tough no matter where we are, whether we're racing at Pikes Peak or Texas or Indianapolis. Certainly there are some more good teams that have come out for Indianapolis. I think as time goes on, people are going to come to more and more respect how good a lot of the Indy Racing League drivers are that are now coming up. They've been winning on America's short tracks for some of them for 15 or 20 years and just couldn't get into an IndyCar ride that was competitive. Now they can. To me that's really a lot of talent. That's who we race against every week.

Buddy, about everywhere you turn, you hear Michael Andretti is coming back, the Penskes are back, the Ganassis are back and now the 500 is going to be the way it used to be. How does that feel to the guy who won this race in 1996? Do you have to have an asterisk next to your name that the competition wasn't as good?

Lazier: Well, yeah, I don't feel that way, of course. That probably doesn't come as any surprise to you, but I really don't. There was a time when those guys weren't around either. There was a time when they were rookies and young up and coming drivers. So to me it doesn't matter. Everything in racing changes. The only thing that doesn't change is everything changes. There's a changing of the guard constantly in motor racing. And what was maybe considered the guard ten years ago or the staunchest competition is not today. Today's staunchest competition quite possibly won't be ten years from now. So there is a change in the guard and I think the Indy Racing League is where the young talent is. As far as 1996 goes, I feel as though we were so hooked up on that day that we could have won, it doesn't matter who was here as long as they were competing under our rules where nobody had 150 horsepower more than we did. We were hooked up. So I don't feel personally any bad feelings that way at all. It would be nice, obviously, and we've been trying very hard. We'd love to win come Sunday because that would certainly prove that. But we've been close enough. I mean, looking at what we did last year, what we did in '98, we've been runner-up twice. Slightly different circumstances that could have been victories. I mean, I added up and it's something like 10.7-some-odd seconds in those two races would take me from a one-time winner to a three-time winner. I would be wearing three rings. That's the kind of thing that haunts you all off-season and motivates you. I think it was 3-point-some-odd seconds in '98 with Eddie and then 7-point-something seconds last year. So that's over 500 miles. That's incredible. That's like a thousandth of a second a lap or something. That's like a sticker on your helmet drag-wise. But obviously there's other circumstances. But that haunts you. You constantly think about it. That motivates you to get better and to improve and to try to find holes in your swing, so to speak, or to improve it. Every off-season we put a lot of effort into improving -- I put a lot of effort into improving my style and trying to find weaknesses to build on and so does the team. So we feel like we're better this year than we were last; and each year hopefully we keep stepping it up.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Buddy Lazier , Michael Andretti