Indianapolis, Ind. – Over a 56-year period, A. J. Foyt has become a legend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning the famed Indianapolis 500 four times, setting records along the way and becoming a household name to race enthusiasts and others with scant knowledge of racing.
Foyt’s colorful and successful career generated thousands of fans and one of them, Greg Allmendinger, thought enough of Foyt to name his son after the famed driver. While Foyt’s official name is Anthony Joseph Foyt, Jr., Allmendinger’s differs slightly at Anthony James Allmendinger.
The Allmendinger father and son duo and Foyt had never met until a winter test a few months ago at the Sebring International Raceway. Greg Allmendinger sought out Foyt for an introduction, sort of to the embarrassment of his son. “My dad sought out A. J. and worked through Larry Foyt to make the introduction,” the youngest Allmendinger said. “While I did follow his career, he was my dad’s racing hero, and I don’t feel there was anything I had to live up to. But it is a cool story.”
Said Foyt, “When I met his daddy, I said, ‘Why did you handicap that kid by putting the initials A. J. on him?’ But A. J. is a very good race driver, and he’s had quite a bit of experience.”
Foyt and Allmendinger nearly met at Daytona a year ago when Foyt was to have been the grand marshal for the Rolex24. While Allmendinger and his co-drivers won the long race, Foyt had to pull out due to illness.
Foyt also mentioned he was pleased to count Allmendinger among the 11 American drivers in the Indianapolis 500.
While Foyt has years of experience at Indianapolis, Allmendinger is a rookie entrant for the Indianapolis 500 and without oval-track experience in open-wheel cars. But he’s racing for the famed Team Penske where talent is essential before you are allowed to step into one of the team’s sleek cars. As a rookie, he qualified the IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet fifth, which was an impressive outcome.
Allmendinger has raced four times at Indianapolis with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and his best finish in the Brickyard was 10th place. Asked if the stock-car experience has been helpful, Allmendinger believes it to be a hindrance.
In the days prior to the 500, Allmendinger said, “I have a good calm underway. While I have amazing teammates (Will Power and Helio Castroneves), I don’t want to be that guy that everyone needs to help. I want to bring something back to the team. Roger (Penske) is telling me to be patient, but he picked me because he thought I could win the race.
While the Foyt cars will garner considerable attention on Sunday, Allmendinger, too, has thousands of fans from his days in CART and his more recent time in NASCAR, and with his determination, we may see a new chapter being written in the “A. J.” book should Allmendinger excel in the 97th running of the iconic race.