So much happens . . . so many colors and sounds: reds, greens, blues dancing under a brass band's music, all background to the screaming thunder of engines made to fly an inch off the macadam. . . the smells: hot dogs, cut grass, methynol, women passing within perfume's reach, the sun of summer coming. The senses are asked to do so much in the last minutes before an Indianapolis 500, and now, at 10:41, Diane Lazier realizes she is standing too far away.
She is too far away to reach her husband. Bob Lazier is 42. Nineteen years ago, newly married to a fetching blond from Minnesota, Bob Lazier left California to wash dishes at a hotel in a place no one knew, a ski resort just opened and called Vail. They asked him, four years later, to buy the hotel in which he had washed dishes. Instead, he built his own hotel.
It is 10:41 and a band is playing "The Star Spangled Banner". Lazier stands at attention on the track in his firesuit. He is a race car driver. This is his first Indianapolis 500. He is singing along when the fetching blond in a white jump suit takes three steps backward. Now she can reach her husband, and she puts her left arm around back of his waist. Gently, he pulls her to him, and they sing together, her head resting against his shoulder. He leans down and kisses the top of her head.
Race wives never know. They never know which time will be the last time. Diane Lazier has three children: Buddy 13, Wendy, 12, and Jacques, 10. Now her husband will go racing the first time at 200 mph, she works her hand against his side, perhaps to tell him she is there, maybe to tell herself he will always be there.
"Bob, in the car, please," an official says.
The ritual final preparations: a swig of Gatorade, earplugs in, flexing of his shoulders, unzipping the firesuit to put on a wet undershirt, glasses on, helmet on.
The blond reaches up and taps three times, with her wedding ring, on her husband's helmet.
It is time to get off the track. She reaches out, one more time, to touch him, squeezing his arm, and she blows him a kiss.
At 10:46, as a bugle plays "Taps," Bob Lazier steps into his race car and fastens the seat belts, radio and neck brace.
This is where he wants to be. He has built another hotel in Vail and made big money in real estate. He flies airplanes. He skis and rides motorcycles. He does yoga with his wife. But at 28 he bought his first race car, and now he belongs to racing. "It devours me," he says. "Totally."
Racing defines Lazier. He is a handsome man, with a Bruce Dern look about his brown eyes and vanishing hair. He could be anywhere on the Sunday before Memorial Day. He could be riding motorcycles with his oldest son, the son that was delivered after his father drove 100 miles through the mountains to get to a hospital ("The contractions were three minutes apart," Diane said, "when I looked at the speedometer, we were going 145. The doctor got to me just in time to catch the baby.")
Lazier chooses to be in a firesuit getting into a race car while a bugle plays a death song.
"You are out there racing," he says, " because you are seeking your personal limits, challenges. It is your personal desire for understanding of what you are. This, Indianapolis, is what I live for. I have dreamed of being here many, many times.
When the Montgomery Ward Auto Club wanted to move from road racing to Indianapolis, it asked Lazier to come along. He had driven in Super Vee for the club five of the last six times, winning the national championship in 1977. His first Indy car race was in March, at Phonix, where he spun out in the 40th lap. He qualified for the 500 at 189.424 mph.
This day in May, the day Lazier dreamed of, was near to catastrophe.
On the 59th lap, there was fire in the pits.
It was invisible fire from methynol.
Rick Mears' car was on fire, but you couldn't see the fire. A crewman began frantically shaking his gloved hand. The Mears came leaping out of the cockpit, trying to push his helmet off. Suddenly, a hundred people crewman and spectators, were running away from the car, and you knew why: the invisible fire was spreading, and what was to keep it from blowing up the 250 gallons of methynol in a steel tank six feet from Mears' car?
Then you could see the fire. It was amber in color. The amber wiggled in the sunlight, a science fiction horror show.
The tank did not explode. The people came back. Mears and three crewmen were burned, one seriously.
And Bob Lazier would say later, "This was a clean race." He didn't see Danny Ongais hit the wall and fly into little pieces. He didn't know Ongais had broken his leg and forearm and had chest injuries. "This was fun," Lazier would say by his garage later.
After 149 of the 200 laps they run here, Lazier was shown in seventh place on the tower at the finish line. A.J. Foyt was eighth. Five laps later, Lazier's engine broke. He finished 19th. He would say he wished he had run a little harder at the first part, and he was just getting comfortable enought to make his fast run at the end.
He was saying all this, saying he felt slow out there at 184 mph, saying he had no butterflies because there were 12 cars starting in front of him. and 20 behind him and he didn't have time for butterflies. He said he would be back next year to try again, when he would be running to win, not to finish in the top 10.