Ray Out Lazier In At Menard

Silly Season kicked into high gear in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series late Wednesday when Team Menard fired former champion Greg Ray and hired Jaques Lazier away from Sam Schmidt’s first-year team.

The decision came down to team chemistry, owner John Menard said.

"I wish Greg Ray well," he said. "I have the highest regard for him, but the chemistry of the team just wasn't working out."

Menard made the official change on the Gateway Indy 250 entry list at noon Thursday. Lazier will debut with the team next weekend at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill.

For Schmidt, it was the latest blow in what has been a roller-coaster season.

“I am not pleased with John Menard and I am disappointed in Jaques,” said Schmidt, who called on Lazier to replace injured Davey Hamilton. “The Lazier family has always been known for keeping their word. You take a look at Buddy who has stuck with Hemelgarn all these years, even through the lean times, and I thought that that’s what we were building with Jaques.”

Schmidt, a former driver who is paralyzed from the chest down as a result of an IRNLS crash in 2000, started the season with Hamilton behind the wheel of the No. 99 Dallara-Aurora. Hamilton severely injured both feet in an accident at Texas in June, making way for Lazier to join the team.

In his first race with Schmidt’s team, Lazier won the pole at Richmond. He finished 19th there, but followed that race with three strong performances. His best finish was a third at Nashville.

“I think it’s an awesome reflection on the quality and talent of our race team. We took a driver that wasn’t even on John Menard’s radar map and put him in a position to replace a championship driver,” Schmidt said.

Ray didn’t see a silver lining in the announcement, but The Associated Press reported that he’s not ruling out a future with Team Menard.

“It's a bit disappointing how it's happening since I've been there longer than any other driver and I've won 15 pole positions, five races and one championship,” said Ray, who won the 1999 IRNLS title. “John (Menard, owner) has decided to try something different for one race and I know he was talking with Jaques tonight.

“We're still talking and I may fly to Eau Claire (Wis., Menard's home) to see what, if anything, the future holds. At this moment, I don't think I've decided how it's going to continue or how it's going to end.”

Ray’s season has gone from bad to worse. After winning the third race of the season at Atlanta, where he won from the pole and led 184 of the 200 laps, Ray has struggled.

At the Indianapolis 500 in May, he was leading but crashed when Michael Andretti began to pressure him. At the next race in Texas he wrecked while leading again. This time he clipped the lapped car of Robby McGehee while making a very low pass on the backstretch. He finished 18th, 14th, 18th and 13th in the next four races, putting him 14th in the points standings.

His plans for next weekend’s inaugural race at Gateway International Raceway are not known.

Schmidt indicated he would field a car at Gateway.

“As for St. Louis, we will pick up the pieces again and go on,” he said.

Schmidt also has had Richie Hearn drive for him this season – he finished ninth at Pikes Peak - and he could make a return in the No. 99 car. Rookie Anthony Lazzaro was expected to drive a second Schmidt car at Gateway, but that is now in question. Lazzaro will, however, take an IRNLS rookie test for Schmidt on Friday.

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