Bryan Herta Autosport Chief Mechanic Don Lambert Earns Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award
A multitude of prestigious awards and presentations are made during the traditional festivities that lead up to the world renowned Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but few carry as much weight among the close-knit IZOD IndyCar Series community as the Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award.
In a ceremony today as part of the traditional Carb Day activities, Bryan Herta Autosport Chief Mechanic Don Lambert joined an illustrious group of his peers when he was presented with a $5,000 check and a plaque in honor of one of the most innovative, resourceful and successful chief mechanics ever to grace the Speedway.
The award, which is presented annually by the Clint Brawner Foundation and supported by Firestone Racing, recognizes an Indy 500 chief mechanic who “exemplifies the mechanical and scientific creativity, ingenuity, perseverance, dedication, enthusiasm and expertise” of its legendary namesake.
Lambert was recognized for playing his part in the fledgling Bryan Herta Autosport team that never gave up in its quest to earn a starting position in the race for talented young rookie driver Sebastian Saavedra. The Colombian struggled to find sufficient speed, then crashed heavily with a couple of hours remaining on a dramatic Bump Day. With Saavedra in the hospital awaiting an MRI (which came back negative) and his hopes seemingly in tatters, the improbable occurred: Two qualified drivers withdrew their times and failed to improve, gifting Saavedra the 33rd and final starting position for Sunday’s 94th running of the Indianapolis 500.
“It’s just hard for me to express how I feel, because this means a lot,” Lambert said. “I guess I was pretty emotional when they told me because of everything else that went on the previous two days, Saturday and Sunday, and then crashing and looking at the car and thinking, oh man! I mean, it broke everything – gearbox, bell-housing, underwings, sidepods, engine cover – and then looking at the work, trying to get the thing put back together, I was just taken back that I actually won that award.
“I had seen guys in the past that had won that award, including my teammate, Butch Winkle, and I was thinking, man, that would be pretty cool, and I didn’t think I would ever win it!”
Lambert, an Indianapolis native, began his career in 1988 with C&P Racing, which was formed by vastly successful team owners Pat Patrick and Chip Ganassi to field a car in the American Racing Series. Lambert has enjoyed much success during his 22-year career, winning an Indy car championship with Bobby Rahal in 1992 and later joining Patrick Racing to become part of the team that was responsible for Firestone’s return to top-line open-wheel racing in North America and securing the tire manufacturer’s historic victory at Michigan International Speedway in 1996.
Lambert was chief mechanic for Alex Zanardi at Mo Nunn Racing in 2001 and later earned success with Fernandez Racing. He served as operations manager for Vision Racing the last two years before joining BHA to oversee its pair of Firestone Lights cars as well as its first attempt at qualifying for the Indy 500.
“I’m just really happy for Donnie that he was recognized by the former winners for the work he has done on our team,” says BHA co-owner Bryan Herta. “I take this is a good omen because my chief mechanic at A.J. Foyt Racing in my rookie year, Craig Baranouski, won the Clint Brawner Award and we had a top-10 result [in 1994], so maybe we’re going to have a great race for Sebastian as well.”