Lazier Lands On His Feet
September 8, 2001 | 11:00 A.M. EST
Mainly, it’s because Lazier’s road to the top of the Indy Racing Northern Light Series has been just short of a nightmare. Sure he’s had strong runs here and there, but his best finish entering this season was seventh three times in 1999.
Even before he hooked up with Sam Schmidt Motorsports in June, Lazier struggled to finishes of ninth, 17th and 22nd in a three-race deal with TeamXtreme. Finally, last Sunday Lazier found victory lane at Chicagoland Speedway in Team Menard’s No. 2 Dallara-Aurora.
It may have taken him three years and seven different teams to accomplish it, but Lazier doesn’t have anything bad to say about his time in the IRNLS.
“I really can't put it into words, the opportunity,” Lazier said. “I spent the last three years in the IRL jumping from team to team. All I've ever really wanted was a home, a place where I can stay for several years and develop a program very similar to what my brother (1996 Indy 500 winner and 2000 IRNLS champ Buddy Lazier) has done with Hemelgarn.
“I can't thank Tony George and the whole Hulman-George family enough for having a vision and following through with it. I also can't thank John Menard enough for believing in me and giving me the opportunity.”
Lazier could have said, “I told you so” to his many former owners, but that’s not his style. Instead, he focuses on the good things that have come his way this season, including his first career pole and win with Team Menard last Sunday at the inaugural Delphi Indy 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.
“This is a tremendous moment for myself, my career, for my family, both extended and the family that was here,” Lazier said. “My father (Bob) is extremely proud to have two Laziers cement wins in what I believe is the greatest series in America today.
“I truly believe we have a home at Team Menard. They welcomed me with open arms and I look forward to this being the first of many wins for Team Menard and myself.”
Lazier has been welcomed at several other teams in the past, but the circumstances were never quite right.
He broke into the IRNLS in 1999 with DR Racing at Phoenix, where he started and finished 28th. He quickly moved over to Truscelli Team Racing and began to shine with the low-budget team. In his first 13 starts with the team, he collected six top-10 finishes, including three sevenths before moving over to Mid-America Motorsports midway through last season.
Lazier opened eyes with a strong run at Kentucky with Mid-America. He led twice for eight laps and dueled with eventual IRNLS champion Sam Hornish Jr. side by side for several laps. An engine ended Lazier’s day prematurely, but he had already made an impression while driving for another low-budget team.
A contract snafu with Truscelli Racing sent Lazier to TeamXtreme for the 2000 season finale when the two operations teamed up for the Excite 500. Again, Lazier led a lap and finished in the Top 10 with little time in the car.
This season he continued his relationship with TeamXtreme for three races, then headed to Sam Schmidt Motorsports when Davey Hamilton was injured. Lazier had several good runs in Schmidt’s No. 99, including his first career pole, before John Menard called on him to replace 1999 IRNLS champ Greg Ray.
Lazier has ties to Menard, and that, in part, helped him snare the ride in the No. 2.
“He's a very dedicated young man that has great driving talent and I like his attitude very, very much,” Menard said. “I've known him and known his brother, known his dad for years. It's kind of a family thing. I'm just so happy that it all came together as well as it did. When you ask a friend to drive for you, it's, you know, it can cause trouble you never anticipated. This all worked all well and I'm very, very proud and happy for Jaques.
“Jaques has been racing in the series for several years and this is not his first race.”
With his first win under his belt, Lazier is already talking about bigger and better things for himself and Team Menard.
“They welcomed me with open arms and I look forward to this being the first of many wins for Team Menard and myself,” he said. “We're going to plan everything and work extremely hard and going to Indy. My plan for next year is to be the first one to win Indy for John Menard and also the championship.
“We're going to continue to work hard and we're going to carry this momentum for the rest of this year and into next year, and we'll have the opportunity to win the championship.”
The way Lazier has performed so far, his prediction doesn’t sound so far-fetched.