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Wednesday, August 15
Lazier gets call to drive for Menard
By Robin Miller
Nobody has won more poles or races or driven longer for John Menard than Greg Ray. But the 1999 Indy Racing League champion was apparently fired Wednesday by the Wisconsin billionaire and replaced by Jaques Lazier.
In a dreadful year which has seen Ray score only one Top 10 finish (a win at Atlanta), fall out of several races due to mechanical failure and plummet to 13th in the standings, Menard decided to make a change with only three races remaining in the 2001 season.
"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 from his home in Plano, Texas.
"John 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 (Wisc., Menard's home) tomorrow 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 sounded like there was still a chance he could drive for Menard, but Lee Ann Nash, the team publicist and marketing director for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, confirmed Lazier had definitely given his notice to that team.
"Just a week after looking us in the eye and saying he'd be running for us next year, Jaques called Sam today and said he was going to drive for John Menard, immediately," said Nash, whose husband, Larry, serves as team manager/engineer.
"I can tell you this. Sam is not very happy with Jaques Lazier."
Neither Menard nor Lazier could be reached for comment, but Buddy Lazier said he had mixed emotions.
"On one hand I'm thrilled for my little brother, but I hate to see anybody lose their job and I know how hard Greg drives," said the defending IRL champion. "Obviously, you never know about your future in this business and I just told Jaques to be semi-cautious.
"You never want to burn too many bridges."
Jaques Lazier replaced the injured Davey Hamilton three races ago and, after taking the pole at Richmond, finished third at Nashville.
Following an impressive stint with his own, low-money operation in 1997, Ray drove for a couple teams in 1998 before replacing Tony Stewart at Team Menard in 1999. Always fast, the 35-year-old Texan lost his longtime friend and engineer Thomas Knapp last year when Menard fired him. Recently, engineer Darrell Soppe, crew chief Gary Neal and two men from the engine shop also were terminated.
"Since Thomas Knapp left last year this team hasn't hit on all cylinders," Ray said. "I don't know if it's chemistry or people or what, but, for one reason or another, we've been lacking results from the middle of this season.
"Our car has been edgy all year and we've had a hard time getting everyone on the same page."
Ray, who still has two years on his current contract, said he and Menard talked for 45 minutes Wednesday about what they could do, might do and wanted to do.
"We both have options in the contract and tomorrow we'll hammer things out as to what we're going to do," continued Ray, who said three IRL owners had already called him. "If we decide to part company, a few things have to be settled up.
"Obviously, John and I had a good relationship and sometimes changes have to be made."
Robin Miller covered motorsports for 33 years at The Indianapolis Star and is now the open-wheel analyst for RPM2Night and a regular contributor to ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories
John Kernan talks with owner Sam Schmidt following Jaques Lazier's jump to Team Menard.
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