Tony Stewart closed out 2019 by sweeping last weekend’s indoor midget races at Fort Wayne, and it’s always well received when a former USAC legend/old schooler returns to his roots and gives the paying customers a show.
David Byrd doesn’t drive race cars and obviously can’t draw a crowd or sell tickets like Stewart, but his passion and business acumen has made him a player in open-wheel racing and he’s going to kick off the 2020 racing season in next month’s Chili Bowl with a three-pronged effort that will get IndyCar some much-needed publicity during its six months of darkness.
He’s teaming with Scott Petry, the man whose company build the dirt track at IMS, for Conor Daly’s second run in the midget classic at Tulsa, Oklahoma.
After fielding cars at Indianapolis twice for James Davison, Byrd has the Aussie lined up for his Chili Bowl debut with a car from Flea Ruzic’s stable.
And Santino Ferrucci, one of the most exciting newcomers on four wheels this past season in the NTT IndyCar series, will be wheeling a Byrd-supported Boss midget for Jody Rosenboom when practice begins on January 13.
“You know how strongly my family has always felt about USAC, short tracks and the Indy 500. It’s incredibly difficult these days to get a short-track guy to Indianapolis, so we’ve decided to go the other way and take some IndyCar drivers to short tracks,” said Byrd, whose late father (Jonathan) owned, entered, and sponsored Indy cars for 17 years, and made sure USAC great Rich Vogler had five good rides for the biggest race in the world.
“I just love the fact that we’ve got some guys who like to take on a challenge.”
The 42-year-old Phoenix resident, who operates the Byrd Hotel Group, followed his father’s lead in 2015 and 2016 when he helped bring Bryan Clauson back to the Speedway, after the USAC star made his Indy 500 debut in 2012 for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.
After Clauson lost his life in 2016 during a midget race, Byrd came back to IMS with Davison in 2018 in a partnership with AJ Foyt Racing, and they made the show with the smallest budget in Gasoline Alley.
While jumping from car to car as an IndyCar super sub, Daly first tried his hand in a Landon Simon midget at the inaugural BC39. He struggled to get comfortable in his first dirt-track action, but was determined to improve, running the Junior Knepper Classic in DuQuoin in Dec. 2018 before hitting midget racing’s biggest stage in Jan. 2019, running both races in a Byrd-supported car owned by Jody Rosenboom.
The second-generation driver was serious about improving, and after running better in the 2019 BC39 in a Petry Motorsports entry, Byrd and Petry took Daly to Arizona earlier this month for a USAC national midget doubleheader at Arizona Speedway. He made the A Main both nights, transferring through his heat race on night one and then charging from the back of the B Main on night two, finishing just behind Rico Abreu.
This past year, Davey Hamilton and Byrd had a plan to get USAC dirt star Kevin Thomas Jr. some pavement experience in a Silver Crown car with the eventual focus on an Indy Lights ride at IMS (like Byrd has done for USAC champ Chris Windom the past two Mays). But, when the Salem round conflicted with the Knoxville Nationals, Thomas had to take a pass and that’s when Byrd asked his Indy 500 driver if he wanted to try a USAC Silver Crown car at Salem.
Hmmm, let’s see. Debut in a long, powerful, front-engine car on one of the most treacherous half mile tracks in the country? Sure, sign me up.
Davison finished ninth in his Silver Crown debut at Salem (photo above) before coming back to Lucas Oil Raceway Park where he earned all kinds of respect and a fifth-place finish.
“He loved it,” reported Byrd. “At Salem, James said he hadn’t worked that hard in a race car in a long time, and that he never had as much fun driving a race car.”
The third piece of this story started at the airport after this year’s Brickyard 400, just after the BC39. “Santino asked me how Conor got to run the midget and I told him because he was one of the only IndyCar guys willing and able to give it a shot. Santino said he wanted to do it, too …”
So, earlier this month at Canyon Speedway in Arizona, Ferrucci ran 100 laps in a 410 sprint car (as did Davison) and is looking forward to Tulsa Town next month.
Byrd has a number of loyal partners and sponsors that help fund his racing program, and he’s going to run Davison again this May at Indy, as well as the Daytona 500 and the four IMSA Endurance races.
“The Byrd/Petry midget is open to any IndyCar driver who wants to try it,” said Byrd. “I like doing interesting things that bring additional attention to short-track racing. I even had a former F1 driver and LeMans winner lined up for the Chili Bowl, but scheduling conflicts derailed that plan. I keep seeing how much Fernando Alonso likes to try different cars, so maybe we’ll go after him for 2021.”