Bob Lazier, CART's 1981 Rookie of the Year, died on Saturday. His family confirmed that the cause of death was complications from COVID-19. The Indy 500 starter and Minnesota Native was 81 years old.
Lazier began racing in the early 1970s and focused on open-wheel racing. He was the father of two IndyCar drivers, Buddy and Jacques, the former of which was the 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2000 IndyCar champion. Jacques, on the other hand, secured an IndyCar win in 2001 at Chicagoland Speedway. Lazier's family said in a statement that he was a "hero" and a "pioneer."
"As in life, he fought the good fight with everything he had," Lazier's son Jaques said to CNN in a statement. "He will be missed. We are all so blessed to have been able to call him husband, father, grandfather and friend. He will always be loved, and never forgotten. Go fast and win, Dad!"
Several prominent figures in racing offered condolences following Lazier's death. Chip Ganassi, the owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, said that the former driver was a "really good guy." He also referenced his time away from the track, calling Lazier a family man, skier, hotelier, and ocean treasure hunter.
Lazier made his only start in the Indianapolis 500 in 1981, the same year that he was named Rookie of the Year by Championship Auto Racing Teams. He started 13th and ultimately finished 19th. Engine failure forced him out of the race after he had completed 154 laps.
The following year, Lazier was scheduled to attempt to qualify for the Indy 500 once again, but he opted out. The reason was fellow driver Gordon Smiley's fatal crash during the opening day of qualifying. His son, Buddy, who was 14 years old at the time, reportedly pleaded with his father to hang up his helmet.
"Bob was always around. He'd always be walking down pit lane, smiling," said Doug Boles, the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, per the IndyStar. "And Bob would always treat you like family."
Despite hanging up his helmet, Lazier still remained attached to the sport of racing. He was involved in both of his sons' racing careers, and he started a racing team with Buddy, Lazier Partners Racing, in 2013. Buddy would go on to make four starts in the Indianapolis 500 between 2013 and 2017. They never finished inside the top 25 and failed to qualify in 2015.