INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Jan. 19, 2001 -- Buddy Lazier won the 1996 Indianapolis 500 carrying No. 91 on his Hemelgarn Racing machine. Last year, he won the Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship, again with No. 91 emblazoned on his ...
INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, Jan. 19, 2001 -- Buddy Lazier won the 1996 Indianapolis 500 carrying No. 91 on his Hemelgarn Racing machine. Last year, he won the Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship, again with No. 91 emblazoned on his car. And now the fans have spoken. They said 91 for 2001, so Lazier will carry that familiar number rather than the champion's No. 1 in the 13-race Indy Racing Northern Light Series this season as he seeks to become the first series driver to win back-to-back titles. Owner Ron Hemelgarn debated over which way to go. No. 1 carries much prestige, but No. 91 carried a lot history for the team. He decided to put the decision up to the fans, placing a ballot on the Hemelgarn Racing Web site (www.hemelgarnracing.com) that allowed fans to vote on the number the team should use. "Although the results were close," Hemelgarn said, "56 percent of the fans voted to keep No. 91 for identification purposes. We will, however, display a commemorative decal marking the 2000 Northern Light Cup." Lazier, 33, won twice and had three runner-up finishes in nine races to claim the Northern Light Cup. Lazier's most memorable performance arguably was his last-to-first charge at Phoenix International Raceway last March. The 2001 season opens March 18 at PIR with the Pennzoil Copper World Indy 200. "Obviously, we have the utmost respect for No. 1 and the championship," Lazier said. "We did not want to make a snap decision. There is a lot of identification that revolves around No. 91. However, No. 1 is a thing of pride. We will remain winners with either number." For years in auto racing, the champion automatically received No. 1 for the following year. But then with the advent of national television, a driver and a number - Dale Earnhardt and No. 3 in NASCAR, for instance - became a constant for identification and marketing purposes. Greg Ray, the 1999 Indy Racing champion, chose to carry No. 1 last season. But 1998 champion Kenny Brack stayed with car owner A.J. Foyt's famous No. 14 in 1999. Tony Stewart ran No. 1 after winning a championship for owner John Menard during the 1996-97 campaign. Lazier will put his No. 91 Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo/Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone car on display for the first time this year Jan. 22-24 during a three-day test at Homestead-Miami Speedway. "After next season, I'll go for No. 1," Lazier said.
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