Lazier Dedicated To Winning
October 18, 2000 | 6:00 P.M. EST
Lazier entered the Indy Racing Northern Light Series race at Texas Motor Speedway with a 38-point lead in the point standings. He only needed to finish 13th in the Excite 500 to clinch his first major racing championship, even if one of his closest competitors won the race.
It would have been easy for Lazier to coast to the finish and collect the $1 million champion’s check without even breaking a sweat.
But, Buddy Lazier doesn’t take the easy way out of anything.
This is the Buddy Lazier that didn’t let years of weak rides in CART diminish his desire to race. This is the Buddy Lazier that broke his back in a practice crash in April of 1996 and won the Indianapolis 500 in May of the same year. This is the Buddy Lazier that smiled through the back pain that plagued him throughout 1996. This is the Buddy Lazier that just won the Northern Light Cup but is already planning to test next week.
This is the Buddy Lazier that won the 2000 IRNLS title because he’s one of the toughest, most consistently aggressive drivers around.
Just ask Scott Goodyear. He won the Excite 500 on Sunday, beating Eddie Cheever, Billy Boat and Lazier to the checkered flag.
"There was many times throughout the race I looked up there and saw Cheever, Buddy and myself were all battling, and I looked at that and I thought 'Well, I can see Cheever and I doing this because we need to win the race,'" Goodyear said. "And I just couldn’t believe that Buddy was up there mixing it up as he was."
But, he was. And that was the plan all along.
"It was so difficult to come up with the proper strategy. Ultimately, the decision was made not to change what we’ve done and not do anything foolish and not do anything stupid," said the 32-year-old Lazier, who will be celebrating a birthday Oct. 31. "There were small little things that we did to keep the car safe and be cautious. But we didn’t want to change the rhythm; we didn’t want change what we did all season.
"We were being semiconscious but keeping the rhythm and still pushing. We did go to try and win the race."
That’s just the philosophy one should expect from Lazier. And who could blame him? He’s got one of the best teams in the business and through their five seasons together, driver and team have created that special bond that breeds success.
Together, Lazier and Hemelgarn Racing have one IRNLS title, four victories, 16 top-fives, 24 top 10s, more than $5 million in winnings and have led 18 races for a total of 583 laps in 42 races.
In a series as ultracompetitive as the IRNLS, those statistics are pretty solid. As solid as Lazier’s commitment to winning and concentration on the task at hand.
Take Sunday, for example.
When Lazier learned from his crew that he had won the championship with 10 laps to go, he could have eased off and laid low until the side-by-side racing at 200 mph had subsided.
But, he didn’t.
"I’ve never really sat back and cruised," Lazier said. "With 10 laps to go, they said I had the championship in the bag, basically, and I radioed back and said 'Ok, let’s make sure we’re on the same level here. If the car comes back with no wheels on it, I still am going to win this championship.' They said, 'Yes, you’ve won the championship.'
"That really allowed me for the last 10 laps to really pull it all out, go hard to try to catch up. I was still trying to pass cars, I never saw the checkers."
It wasn’t until Turn 1, Lazier said, that he realized the race was over and that a long off-season loomed until the IRNLS 2001 debut at Phoenix in March. Usually, the IRNLS would be heading to Walt Disney World for its January opener, but that race has been put out to pasture. That makes the off-season close to five months.
"In a way I’m going to miss that early race, but at the same time, having the longer break allows you to plan things more methodically and have more time to accomplish some things," Lazier said. "I think it’s going enable me to spend even more time preparing for the season."
In fact, those preparations will start next week.
"We’re going to Indianapolis to do some chassis testing and some engine testing," Lazier said. "We’re already starting to make plans and arrangements for next year."
Leave it to Lazier to spend an extra-long off-season making plans for 2001. That’s why he's the champ.