Jonathan Byrd Passes Away

Jonathan Byrd, co-entrant in 1996 of Arie Luyendyk’s all-time Indianapolis 500 record qualifier, passed away Aug. 20 in Greenwood, Ind. He was 57.

Byrd, who had been disabled by a stroke since 2004, was a "500" entrant from 1985 until 2001, having aligned himself with a variety of other entrants, including Leader Card, Inc., A.J. Foyt, Ron Hemelgarn, Dick Simon, Alex Morales, the Machinists Union, Clayton Cunningham, Dennis McCormack and Team Xtreme.

Strongly associated for many years with sponsorship of cars at the Indianapolis Speedrome short track, located on the east side of the city, Byrd even sponsored NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip at one point. He developed a very close friendship and partnership with Rich Vogler, which parlayed into several USAC Midget car titles and numerous wins, eventually taking the pair to the Indianapolis 500.

The charismatic Byrd, with his infectious laugh, never was rewarded with an Indianapolis 500 victory. But he saw several of his drivers land top-10 finishes, including Gordon Johncock (sixth in 1991), Scott Brayton (sixth in 1993), Vogler (eighth in 1989), Stan Fox (eighth in 1991) and John Andretti (10th in 1994).

In 1996, Luyendyk's original front-row qualifying run was disallowed when his car failed to meet the minimum weight requirement in a post-qualification technical inspection, but Luyendyk stormed back the following day to obliterate the one- and four-lap qualifying records. This being the final year for turbocharged engines, Luyendyk’s marks with the Tim Wardrop-prepared Byrd/Fred Treadway-entered Jonathan Byrd's Cafeteria/Bryant Heating and Cooling Reynard/Cosworth were 236.986 mph for the four-lap run and an amazing 237.498 mph for the fastest single lap.

Those records still stand.

Byrd is fondly remembered by the "500" fraternity for the many months of May in which he would set up a huge marquee near the garage area and permit literally hundreds of race personal and media per day the opportunity to experience his magnificent cafeteria food.

While Byrd never won at Indianapolis, John Paul Jr. drove one of his cars to victory in the IndyCar Series race in September 1998 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byrd was a successful businessman who operated Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises and then opened his Jonathan Byrd’s cafeteria and banquet hall in Greenwood, Ind. He also operated several hotels and operated a business trading in rare books, ancient Bibles and theology books. He also was very active in founding and supporting Christian ministries.

Services are pending.

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