When this year’s expected pack of 33 racers lines up for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 25, one car — No. 91 to be exact — will be sporting a familiar logo: the University of Iowa Tigerhawk.
Buddy Lazier, a 1996 Indy 500 winner, will drive the Hawkeye-branded car in the 500-mile race after Lazier Partners Racing partnered with the UI’s Stephen A. Wynn Institute for Vision Research to raise awareness for the institute’s research. The UI institute is the lead sponsor for Lazier’s IndyCar — a Dallara-Chevrolet-Firestone — in the event hailed as “the greatest spectacle in racing.”
The partnership emerged out of Lazier’s personal connection and passion for vision research. His 12-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, was born with aniridia, a rare eye disorder characterized by a partial or complete absence of the colored portion of the eye, according to the UI Foundation.
The disorder can cause vision problems and increased sensitivity to light. In Jacqueline’s case, aniridia has combined with glaucoma to cause her to lose vision in her right eye, according to foundation officials.
The UI institute, named in honor of Las Vegas casino mogul Stephen A. Wynn in October after he gave $25 million to further its research, is studying aniridia and glaucoma, along with other eye diseases.
In a news release, Lazier’s father and Lazier Partners Racing co-owner Bob Lazier said the Wynn Institute “is personal to our family and right in line with the goals and purpose of our team.”
“We want to win on the track, and we want to help people achieve their goals every day off the track,” Bob Lazier said.
Practice for this year’s Indy 500 begins Sunday and qualifications are held May 17 and 18. Although Lazier technically has to qualify for the main event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 33 cars are vying for 33 spots, said UI Foundation spokeswoman Dana Larson.
“A car would have to crash not to qualify,” Larson said.
Edwin Stone, UI professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and director of the Wynn Institute, called exposure through the race an “incredible opportunity to share with the millions of people who follow the Indy 500 the important research our scientists are conducting to help patients with vision loss.”
In addition to the race promotion, the Wynn Institute is benefiting from another upcoming athletic event — an annual golf event dubbed Sam’s Scramble for Sight. The event, which will raise money solely to support the Wynn Institute, is scheduled for Aug. 4 outside Grand Rapids, Mich.
It is organized by Brian Walker, CEO of Herman Miller — a Michigan-based global manufacturer of office and home furniture — and member of the Wynn Institute Advisory Board. Walker’s son, Sam, has been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease the Wynn Institute is studying in hopes of finding “promising treatments and, ultimately, a cure.”
In honor of both the Indy 500 exposure and the Walker fundraiser, longtime UI donors Gary and Cammy Seamans have committed $100,000 toward the institute’s research fund.
“The Indy 500 is an opportunity to tell Jacqueline and Sam’s stories and to bring hope to other patients,” Gary Seamans said in a news release.