Bob Lazier always loved cars.
His first auto purchase at age 14 was an “ice car,” appropriately named since it could only be driven on frozen Lake Minnetonka during the winter months, but his parents helped him procure a four-year-old Jaguar in 1958.
“I absolutely love cars, and I absolutely love driving cars, and I really, really love driving cars fast and in competition.”
In fact, he met his wife, Diane, at a car race. His friend Johnny pointed at Diane and said, “I’m going to date that girl.” Bob said he’d give him a week, because he was going to date her as well. Johnny called her up on the following Thursday, but Bob had already been out with her twice.
His response to Johnny: ”Hey, I’m a street kid, what did you expect!”
They married in the fall of 1961.
With Diane having a steady job at the phone company, Bob was working at a ski shop in Minneapolis during early fall of 1962 when a man wearing lederhosen waltzed into the shop.
He was traveling from ski shop to ski shop throughout the Midwest, armed with only a Hal Sheldon sketch on a brochure, trying to get skiers to visit a new ski area called Vail.
The man’s name was Bob Parker (former editor for Skiing Magazine and Vail’s first publicity man, plus much, much more). Bob Lazier had never heard of Vail, yet took one of the brochures home and said, “Diane, we’re going to go ski bumming! You’re gonna learn how to ski!”
During the 1960-61 winter Bob had “ski bummed” at Alta and Mammoth, and though breaking his leg in Mammoth, was still hot for the sport that allowed him to go as fast as he could without the assistance of a combustion engine.
The man just likes to do everything quickly.
Arriving in Vail less than three weeks after opening day on January 4th 1963, Bob swears they made it out for about ten bucks in gas.
Stopping off at the Vail Village Inn, a woman was standing there, crying, and declaring, “I’m never going to work for that ?&*!@! Charlie Gersbach again!” (Charlie was manager of the Vail Village Inn at the time, and became a beloved character of this community until his passing in 2002).
Thinking it was a perfect opportunity for Diane to apply for a job, they spent their first Vail night in a cozy Morris Minor woody station wagon. Upon applying, Charlie insisted he see their marriage certificate because he wouldn’t allow anyone living in sin to stay at his hotel (those who knew Charlie, please stop laughing…). She got the job as a waitress, and they found a place to live in Minturn.
Charlie then hired Bob to help the maids make the beds, and he also needed a dishwasher, so Bob did that as well. Moving to the front desk, he learned how to work the phones, manage room folios, etc. while also becoming a bartender.
Bob knew little about the hotel business, but was quickly learning.
“You are a product of your life,” says Bob Lazier.
Well, after that first winter, he saw a need for the fledgling little ski area, and it involved places for employees to live.
With a $5,000 loan from his fa
ther and the sale of a car back home, he was able to buy a small piece of property from Vail Associates for $7,000. The sale took some real convincing though, as Bob ran into roadblocks every step of the way.
“They said I was too young and didn’t know what I was doing,” he says.
That was, of course, all he needed to hear.
Everyone else was constructing with wood at the time, but Bob wanted to build a concrete building, “Something solid that would last,” he says, a statement eerily reminiscent of his early years in the orphanage.
Construction started in early fall of 1963, and the eight units of the Wedel Inn were ready for tenants by December, and they already had a waiting list.
“We were the only ones with individual bathrooms,” says Bob. “Besides, Vail has always sought quality and all the others were dormitory style, with a community bathroom. Plus, we had bunk beds.”
He and Diane would clean the rooms once a week,.
Both keeping their day jobs, with Diane waiting tables and Bob bartending, he was receiving loads of free advice each night at the bar from all of the construction workers that came in for a drink.
It proved invaluable over time.
Yes, Bob knew little about the building business, but was learning quickly.
The following spring, 1964, Vail Associates was expressing a need to the tiny community for hotels, so they opened up for sale two lots on the northwest side of where the Covered Bridge is today.
Once again able to secure one of the lots and enough financing to start building in spite of the naysayers, construction began on September 8, 1964, and finished on December 19.
The man built in overdrive; yet always manage to provide quality construction.
The first people to check in were welcomed to a motel with 20 rooms but no doors. Bob told them, “Leave your stuff and go skiing. We’ll have ’em on by the time you’re done enjoying the day.” He also didn’t have the boiler running yet, and with seven rooms occupied that first night, the guests helped them get things going by bedtime. A few years later, Bob sold two of the original guests condominiums.
“Hey, we’re in the hotel business,” he said to Diane that night.
She was still waiting tables and he was still bartending.
A year later they bought the second lot and completed the Wedel Inn with more rooms and a restaurant. The next year, Vail’s Arcade building was finished and after another year their fourth building was completed – The Tivoli Lodge – and Bob had an interesting offer from J. Robert Young, chairman and founder of what became Colorado Alpine Banks. Young could not borrow money from his own bank, and wanted to purchase a Formula Vee (an open wheel, single-seater junior motor racing formula based upon the 1963 Volkswagen Beetle engine and suspension), and asked Bob to take out a loan and be a partner.
“I’ll pay all the interest, and when we sell the car I’ll pay off the principal…in the meantime, if you’d like, you can run the regional races in it and I’ll race it in the nationals.”
Bob, sensing an incredible opportunity, happily took the car and ended up winning every race he entered for six weeks. Young didn’t see his car again until early summer.
“It was the only thing that would stop me from building buildings…I just loved to race cars,” he says with what I swear was a tear in his eye.
But the he didn’t stop building.
Since races were on weekends, construction stayed in high gear for the next decade, with Bob completing The Willows, the Lionshead Arcade Building, the Lifthouse Condominiums, Sun Vail, Solar Vail and a parking structure, just to name a few. High on his list was his involvement in the first Vail Mountain School building.
But the racing took center stage whenever Vail Mountain was closed.
In 1970 Bob purchased a Formula Ford and began racing both cars, eventually joining the Pro Formula 5000 circuit, the Pro Trans Am series, Formula Super Vee’s and, cream-of-the-crop at the time, CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) Car series.
A decade of racing came to a tremendous climax when he qualified for the 1981 Indianapolis 500. Racing head to head alongside such famous notables as Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Al Unser and A.J. Foyt, Bob blew his Penske-Cosworth engine in the 154th lap.
In October of that year he came in fourth to Rick Mears and Al Unser in the Primera Copa Mexico City 150 and another fourth to Mears in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and was named Rookie of the Year.
All at the young age of 42.
As a small yet very important side note, I should add that Bob’s two boys, Buddy and Jacque, both became professional racers as well, with Buddy winning that little race called the Indianapolis 500 in 1996.
But that’s another story for later.
Still involved in construction, racing, flying (did I mention he builds airplanes too?), skiing and, of course, running the Tivoli Lodge at the age of 76, the thrills from speed has never waned for Bob.
Just last June 33 former Indianapolis 500 drivers paired with amateurs for a 40-minute Indy Legends Pro-Am race. Bob paired with good friend, Jim Caudle, in a 1969 Chevy Corvette.
They won by 48.9 seconds.
Currently working on a new building in Lionshead as well, Bob Lazier has no plans to slow down anytime soon.
Unless, of course, somebody tells him he can’t.