An interview With A.J. Foyt, Larry Foyt and Darren Manning
November, 14, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining us on the Indy Racing League teleconference. We are joined by four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt and members of his team to discuss A.J. Foyt Racing plan for the 2007 season. A.J. Foyt Racing has participated in the IndyCar Series full-time since its inception in 1996. The team shared the inaugural series championship with driver Scott Sharp and the 1998 title with Kenny Brack. The team has seven wins in the IndyCar Series, including the 1999 Indianapolis 500 with Kenny Brack.
Joining us first to make the team announcement is team owner A.J. Foyt.
A.J. FOYT: It's nice to be here and whoever is out there, we'll be glad to answer any questions we have. We're going to make the announcement of our race driver here today. Darren Manning is going to be his name. He's an Englishman, but it sounds like he's a good old boy from America.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, A.J. At this time we welcome team director Larry Foyt and Darren Manning to the call. Larry Foyt, of course, is the son of A.J. Foyt and takes on the role of team director this year. Larry moved from Charlotte, N.C., back to Houston in September. Larry, Can you talk about the expanded role, which I guess you found out about around the same time we did earlier this year.
LARRY FOYT: It's been really exciting. My driving career kind of slowed down a little bit and just all felt into place with me moving back to Texas and taking on a bigger role with our IndyCar operation. I tell you what, it's been exciting, we have been making a ton of changes here at the team and very excited in hiring Darren Manning. It'a one of our biggest steps here that we're making and hope that it is in the right direction to get this team back up and racing back at the front of the field.
THE MODERATOR: Darren, of course, is new to the A.J. Foyt team but no stranger to the IndyCar Series, he made 24 starts in 2004-2005 with Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Welcome back to the IndyCar Series.
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, glad to be here and glad to be driving for the legend, A.J. Foyt, and try to get this team backup to the front where it should be running.
Q: Larry can you take us through some of the changes you are making? We've heard about the wind tunnel time. What else will you do to improve the competitiveness of the car?
LARRY FOYT: I think it's nothing major but a lot of little things that our team used to do when we were winning the championship and winning races. That just goes from testing of all types to wind tunnel like we talked about; We are going to do more on-track testing this season. We are going to do every bit we can which we've just kind of missed a few in the past which I think we fell behind a little bit.
We've got new personnel coming in all across the boards from Darren to mechanics to help build this team and get going in the right direction.
And there are a lot of things I can't say we're doing because this is kind of an information-based business and we have to keep some of it to ourselves. That's the thing, we are down here in Texas. We are not up in Indy around everyone. And my dad has always liked to do a lot of his own R&D here in-house, and so we're just picking up this program where it was a few years ago to get us back to the front.
Q: Darren, what have you been doing for the last few months to keep yourself in shape and driving-wise, the last time we saw you here was at an A1GP race?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, that's right, we really concentrated on that program really for most of the season testing. I drove the first rounds of the A1 Grand Prix series, the (Great Britain) Team, the GBR in Holland and was hopefully going to be concentrating on the rest of the season over the winter on that until I got the call from Larry.
So got myself back over here. I've been doing a few GT races, raced over in Japan, tested over there a few times for Nissan in the big GT 500 series over there. They have always kept in good contact with me from when I raced there in '99 in a Formula 3 championship. You know, I've still got good contacts over there, so that was maybe a route I was thinking of taking next year, until this deal came along. I also played a lot of golf. (Laughing)
Q: I'm sure of that. What drew you to A.J. Foyt racing?
DARREN MANNING: Well, you know, it's an up-and-coming team. It's a tight little organization that wants to go better, and you know, hopefully bringing me on board is hopefully a step to getting A.J.'s car back up to the front, and hopefully I can learn a lot from A.J. I love his passion and involvement with his little team.
I know a lot of the family and Larry and everybody here, and you know, I was really excited when I first got the call and it's really motivated me. And I'm working harder than ever before in the gym. I'll be spending a lot of time with the team and hopefully I can be a good contribution.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the process of choosing Darren and how many other suitors you were looking at and so forth?
LARRY FOYT: We were just going over our options and had been talking to some people. Darren was someone that I got to meet when I was racing Indy my rookie year, and had always kind of followed his career. You know, obviously from just the onset of when you meet Darren, he's very charismatic and great for our sponsor, ABC Supply. They bring a lot of people to the races and they are such a great company that likes to be involved in the race team. So I felt like a driver that is very personable with ABC would be great for us.
And as well, start looking back at records, even that year when he left Ganassi Racing, he pretty much had outperformed their other drivers every event. So I think that shows, when you can out run your teammates, that shows how competitive you actually are as a driver. That was one of the major reasons.
I was trying to get ahold of him and got a hold of Scott Dixon who gave me Darren's number and called him up and everything just happened very quickly. He sounded excited and we were excited and right there everything just fell into place.
Q: Larry, obviously you're team director now, was this fully your decision or was this something A.J. had in mind beforehand?
LARRY FOYT: Well, you know, we had been talking about it for some time. It wasn't just as kind of, as it looked, just kind of spontaneous decision. It was something we had been talking about and like I said, something that was a goal of mine for a long time and I just always felt like I would be driving for a little bit longer before that time came along.
But that's just how this sport is. So when you get an opportunity like that, I was really excited and I didn't know what to expect until I got down here. But I tell you what, just being back down here and around these cars, as opposed to stock cars, these are the kind of cars I was interested in ever since I was younger.
Just really glad to be working with these cars and everything has really been comfortable to me and just hoping that some of the changes we make will show in the results when we get to Homestead.
Q: A.J., with Larry now taking over as manager, will you be as fully involved in the team as you have been, or will you let him run the day-to-day operation and you show up on weekends?
A.J. FOYT: No, I'm still here, we'll still work together. He's taking a lot of the load off of me. He's actually here running the day-to-day operations, but under my command.
Q: And Larry, any chance when May roles around, you could put a hat back on and try to run the 500?
LARRY FOYT: You never know. I'd love to do that. I've enjoyed being able to run there the last few years of course, my childhood dream. So really thankful for my dad to give me that opportunity.
But at the same time, I'm pretty focused with this position. Right now we've just got to get our primary car really up and running. Yeah, Indy, this organization has always run a couple of cars at the Speedway, and it's a big year for us with A.J.'s 50th year at Indy, and also ABC Supplies 25th year of their company. So, it's a big year.
I'm sure we'll have a big presence at the Speedway and I don't know if I'll be in it or someone else will be, but I'm sure we'll have some pretty exciting things at Indy.
Q: A.J., you are one very excited individual and you are known to be hands-on, how will you stand back and let Larry doing the call on race day?
A.J. FOYT: He's got a hell of a lot more youth than I've got, first of all. I'm kind of getting up in age and I'd like to back off a little bit. But I'm still going to keep my hands on probably 100 percent and not 110 percent ike normally and start him off with 10 percent and let him go right up to 110 percent.
Q: How are your knees doing?
A.J. FOYT: Well, you should have asked me that any day but today. The one I had replaced is going great and the other one is blown out now, but I'm going to try to nurse it all through next year. Everyone says you ought to go and have it changed right now, but they wasn't laying in that hospital bed. They didn't take my place when I was hurting, and I've hurt enough through the years, so I'm just going to tolerate it as long as I can.
Q: Coming into this team, what do you see for your goals, on-track goals for 2007?
DARREN MANNING: You know, I haven't really set anything yet. Obviously winning is a big thing. You know, as a racing driver, I want to win as much as possible. We're just going to go out there and try to get in the Top-10, first of all, and finish every race, or hopefully on the lead lap and you know, if this team and myself shows its full potential, there's no reason why we can't get up there. Especially on maybe some of the shorter tracks, especially road courses where maybe my specialty and A.J. and the team, we can really put a good car out there on some of those road courses now and maybe really challenge for some wins.
But we just want to have some good results in the Top-10, and you know, those oval races, some yellow flags and some good strategy from the boss here, you never know what can happen. So we're just looking for a good year.
Q: Innovations come and go, drivers come and go, but the leader and the focus of what you do, A.J., is still like Penske, how much of this is settled around reaching that focus point?
LARRY FOYT: Well, obviously Penske has kind of set the bar for what you have to achieve. Whoever you are racing against, you have to beat whoever is up in the front.
So right now, Penske and Ganassi have set that bar, and obviously Roger has done it for a long time and that's what we're definitely trying to get back to. I think when A.J. was out racing with them all the time, they both beat each other a lot, and that's what A.J. wants to get to. I'll let him expand on that.
A.J. FOYT: Actually, that's the biggest thing, you know, when I was driving, it was a lot different than other race drivers, I knew when I was behind and what I was doing wrong. But at the same time, Roger has always had good championship cars and great race drivers. That's one thing that makes his team very successful. He's got some great race drivers. So does Chip Ganassi.
And as long as I was in my team, I felt like I was as good as any driver he ever had. That's one thing we wanted to I am move with Manning for a driver and he drove for Ganassi and I feel we have basically the same cars, and we're going to have just as good of pit stops and all that. We had good stops the last couple of years. But we just need somebody to push that button a little harder and I think that's who we have now. I think you'll see us up there fighting pretty hard with Penske and Ganassi.
Q: Have you noticed over the last couple of years whether he's used the drivers or not, which a Chip Ganassi has been harvesting a pool of young drivers such as one I think you may be looking at right now, A.J.?
A.J. FOYT: Yeah, that's quite true. It hard to compete with that youth. I don't care who you are. You see the same steps taking place over in NASCAR. You take Michael Waltrip and you take Dale, Jarret and that, you hate to say that, but the young kids are putting the breaches on them pretty tough.
I know when I was young coming along in Indy Cars and all that, one of migrate competitors was Rodger Ward, but I was quite a bit younger than Rodger Ward and to me he was a great race driver. When I come along, with myself, Parnelli, it's on the same area, but at the same time we were a lot younger.
It's hard to beat youth. Let's face, it you're kind of young and dumb when you first start, even though you're a hard race driver, and you don't know how bad it is when you get hurt. You know, it's so much better to be young than it is to be old. Like I say, when you get old, you get a little lower and it hurts a hell of a lot more when you crash.
Q: I haven't spoken to you since the announcement was made about Daytona being put in the test for the beginning of the year, how do you feel about that?
A.J. FOYT: I think it's good. I raced down there at Daytona and I won down there a couple of times in stock cars and I won down there in sports car and I'm glad to see that IndyCar is back there testing. It's a great facility, and Daytona I used to love to go down there. So I'm kind of glad to see that IndyCar is back down there.
Q: Are you definitely a proponent for racing there one day?
A.J. FOYT: You mean our cars?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I hope some day. We're going to be testing down there, so it could be in the future.
Q: You talked about engineering, upgrading the engineering and everything, is there any chance that Mr. (Bruce) Ashmore will be part of that group again next year?
LARRY FOYT: It's certainly a possibility. We're in contact with him all the time. He's obviously very busy with everything he's got going on with the Silver Crown Series and everything like that, but we really enjoy working with him.
We've already got some engineers in place here full-time already now and it's a big build-up for our team, but Bruce would be a great supplement to that. We'll see what happens.
Q: The IndyCar Series has added some road courses, and I remember I was at Elkhart working on a team when you went off-course up there, do you like road racing; do you think that street courses are good for the series overall?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I think it's good for the series, and a lot of the fans can mix with you when you're at the races. And fans like to be with people -- like to be with people, and of course Elkhart Lake, I'm stilling suffering from that day you're talking about. I think road racing is an asset to the open-wheel racing because like I say, the fans can get closer to the cars and closer to the drivers.
So I've never cared that much for road racing, even though I won my share of road races and the 24 Hour LeMans and Daytona and all that and Sebring in Florida. I guess I ran halfway decent on them, but you've got to go with what the people like, and a lot of people like road racing and that makes me like it, too.
Q: The car count at Indianapolis has been a little thin the last two or three years. Do you have an estimate of how many people will have real race cars -- inaudible -- and how many you intend to bring yourself?
A.J. FOYT: Well, we've been through this many, many years and we've always had four or five race cars, and they are all real race cars. but every time I've entered four or five cars, I've got four or five complete cars.
One thing I think has not really helped and has hurt, you know, actually the biggest thing you've got to look at Indy is your motor program. A lot of times when you have one engine, it's hard to have enough motors for 40 or 50 or 60 cars like it used to be, because everybody else used them on the off-day and they all had their own motor and everything like that. When you have a lease program, if you've got two cars, that's all you've got is two motors that you lease. The lease programs, they are very good, but they are awfully expensive, too.
So that's one thing that kind of hurts your car count, I would have to say, because a lot of teams cannot afford four or five leases and just run one race a year, and it mainly goes to your primary car and sometimes you lease a motor just for the 500-mile race. That's one thing that's hurt the car count a little bit.
That's one thing that I like about Indianapolis, still the fastest 33 cars regardless of how you put them there.
Q: What about A.J. IV? Has he given any thoughts to coming back to Speedway cars, and do you have a leased car in which you could stop George Snyder?
A.J. FOYT: George, he's like A.J. Foyt, he's not on the uphill climb anymore; we're all on the downhill run. No, I really don't know. I told George, I was teasing him last year, I could put you in a car in qualifying, but first of all, the cars are not big enough, for me and George.
Those were the good old days, I'll agree there, but those days are long gone, you don't see that no more.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for your time today.