An interview with A.J. Foyt, A.J. Foyt IV Part 2 of 2 Q: This is for A.J. I have kids, and I worry if they just walk down the stairs and trip. How do you not go nuts, or just be so worried about your grandson out there racing, worrying about...
An interview with A.J. Foyt, A.J. Foyt IV
Part 2 of 2
Q: This is for A.J. I have kids, and I worry if they just walk down the stairs and trip. How do you not go nuts, or just be so worried about your grandson out there racing, worrying about him getting hurt? How do you get past that emotionally and just say, 'OK, this is my race-car driver'?
A.J. Foyt: I don't know. You stay choked up all day. You're hoping it never happens, but actually, since I quit driving myself, I probably worry more about whoever it is in my cars than I did myself. I don't care if it's (Eliseo) Salazar or Airton, I just can't stand hardly to see anybody get hurt in my cars. I probably wouldn't be crippled today if I would have paid that much attention as I do with the cars today, because I just feel like you're playing with other people's lives, and you'd hate it like hell if you left something loose, or if something broke that was beyond your control, it would always be on your mind. It's just like yesterday, coming back from West Texas to the ranch. My son and my chief mechanics on the Indy cars, all three of them are following me, and I kind of went over a hill and all of a sudden they weren't behind me, and I said, 'Man, something must have happened.' Then about that time, all of a sudden I got a call. I tried to call them, and then I got a call back, and I said, 'Where are you all at? I slowed way down and waited,' and they said, 'We're upside down on the median.' I said, 'What?' The weather was really bad, and they were towing a trailer. Thank God they didn't hit anybody. It just shows you how things can happen beyond your control, and I just couldn't hardly believe it. I just swallowed hard and I said, 'Oh my God,' and of course they didn't hit anybody else. They just turned the rig upside down. But, yes--like you say, it's always on your mind. You're just always nervous. Every lap, you're glad to see them complete that lap, and when you're on a big track and the yellow goes on, you're waiting for that word, 'We're all right,' or if you know they crashed, you're on the radio. As long as you can hear them talk, it's fine, but when they have a crash like that and you don't hear anything back, then everything runs through your mind. No, it's always on your mind.
Q: Do you try to remember back what it was like for you as a race-car driver where you loved it so much that, like you said, you never even thought about it? Do you try to think, 'All right, they love this. I've got to support them'?
A.J. Foyt: Life is very short, and I just feel like if I was ever reborn, even though I've had good years and I've had bad years, ups and downs, I would have never changed anything that's ever happened to me from the day I started to the day I die. Life is very short, and thank God I was able to do something and made a halfway decent living and enjoyed life. So like I said, if that's what they want to do, let them have it because life is very short. Like I said yesterday, that wreck that they had coming home, how quickly it can be over with--just bang, bang, and it's beyond your control. I think as long as you're on the Earth, have as much fun as you can and just go on.
Q: A.J. IV, I wonder, could you just reflect back to victory lane at Texas, and have you ever seen your grandfather as proud as he was that day? As an observer who has been an admirer of your grandfather, it must have been a tremendous day in the history of your family.
A.J. Foyt IV: Yes, it was a great day. We had another big win at the event at Kansas where me and Airton won, and it was an exciting day for me and Airton, because I know how hard the Indy car crew was working to get their first win, and then I got my first win also. He's been happy a few times like that. I know when he won Indy and Kenny (Brack) won Indy, he was just as happy. We've got a lot bigger things to accomplish, and hopefully, he can be happy a lot more times.
Q: A.J. IV, I know you've talked about, obviously, you knew him as your grandfather that you love very much, and then you understand how our nation treasures your grandfather because of his role in sports and what he's done. I know you've said you've done a little research on some of the things that he's done, but as you've read up and talked to him and as you meet other people in the garage area at IRL events and Indianapolis and talked about his role, what sense do you get? I would suspect it probably makes you even prouder of being his grandson.
A.J. Foyt IV: I know how many things he's accomplished, and I know how much people love him in racing and what all he's done for the racing world. To try to live up to that name is really pretty impossible, so I just usually try to go out there and just do the best I can, and if people say that I'm going to be like him, that's just a great big compliment to me. I just mainly try to do the best I can, and just try not to focus on being like him, because I know that would never happen.
K. Miller: While we wait for a couple of more questions to come in, A.J. IV, your birthday is May 25, and that's the same day as the Indianapolis 500 this year. That would be an excellent birthday present for you to qualify for your first Indy 500. Have you given any thought to that event coming up, and that you actually are going to have your first shot at the Indy 500? Have you anticipated what that day will be like?
A.J. Foyt IV: I have a little bit, but I still try to focus on Miami and going to the test in Miami. I'm just trying to take it one step at a time because I know I'm still really young and still have got a lot to learn, so I'm not trying to jump three races over. I'm just really trying to focus on Miami and try to get my confidence up and get ready for the 500.
Q: This is for both of you. A.J., you've been known to give you drivers some hard time if they don't work to their greatest potential. Are you going to be able to hold back, or will you hold back, if A.J. IV doesn't perform like you want him to on the racetrack?
A.J. Foyt: You could probably ask A.J. what happened in Chicago when he did some things I asked him not to do. All the way home from Chicago I chewed on his little old butt. But really, no, A.J. listens to me pretty good, so, yes, I'll probably chew on him if he doesn't follow orders pretty good, and I think he expects me to, and I don't think he wants to be treated any differently than anybody else that has driven for me.
Q: A.J. IV, what about you? Tell us about this Chicago incident.
A.J. Foyt IV: I kind of made a move on my own, which I'm really not supposed to do. I kind of went up high halfway through the race to try to take the lead, and ended up getting freight-trained to the back, and I didn't get to sew up the championship that weekend. That's the only time I wish I could not ride on his jet. I wish I could have rode on the truck all the way home, because I heard it all the way back to Texas.
Q: Are you the kind of person that can let it go and realize that he's trying to do something to better your career? This doesn't go to the dinner table, does it?
A.J. Foyt IV: Even though he may be hollering it or yelling, I still just have to listen to what he says, because I know that's going to help me in the future. Right when he gets done, we're right back to normal--we're great friends, and we don't hold grudges. We're just grandson and grandpa, and we get along fine. We just go through some hard times sometimes, but we get over it quickly.
Q: A.J., what do you think your emotions will be when he qualifies for that first race, hopefully at Miami, and you hear his name announced over the speaker and you belt him into that car?
A.J. Foyt: It will be big. Like I say, we're going to cross those bridges as we cross them. We're in no hurry this first year. We're going to do the best we can, but also I've got Airton to worry about, too. Airton is not that old either, so if you take the three drivers I have between A.J., Airton and Larry, I think their age averages something like 22 years old, so I've got three pretty young boys right now. His first race will be big. It's just like at Kansas in the Infiniti program. I couldn't believe that we would sit on the pole and be fortunate enough to win the race. That was really kind of unheard of because we had never taken him out to test in the car. We took a brand new car there, and really had no idea. I know some of the guys had been testing them and all that, so we just kind of set it up where we thought it would work the best, and after that we never really changed anything. That car ran beautifully all year, and he ran good, so it was a big emotional deal there at Kansas, and I'm quite sure it would be the same thing at Homestead.
Q: This is for A.J. When you go to Indianapolis for the 500, has Anthony driven around the track any or do you have special tests planned, or when would you be over there?
A.J. Foyt: We'll definitely do a lot of testing with him. We're going to do some more this year before it's over with. No, we've just got to do all the testing we can, because all the testing I can do with him, the better it's going to help him, and because I know it's going to be a very tough field at the same time, and I want him to have the biggest advantage he can possibly have. I don't want to just take him there cold turkey and throw him in there with people that have got a lot of experience. He might not have the racing experience, wheel to wheel at those kinds of speeds, but at the same time he's got a good head on his shoulders, he ran wheel to wheel with the other stuff, and it's really not that much different, especially if he's got a lot of laps on the racetrack and knows what the racetrack is going to do. That's one thing we're going to do is a lot of testing.
K. Miller: Just as a reminder, we do have the Rookie Orientation Program, and in addition to any testing that A.J. may have planned, A.J. IV, would have to go through the Rookie Orientation Program before the month of May and actually pass through that program before he could attempt to qualify for the 500.
Q: A.J., we know about the history of families in this sport--the Unser brothers. I always tell people I learned how to spell Albuquerque because that was the first I had ever heard of that place, because of them, and you see Arie Luyendyk's son is there, and the namesakes, your grandson. How important is that in racing that we have these generations where the torch almost gets passed in a sense, and some of those royal families and some of those hallowed names in racing continue that tradition?
A.J. Foyt: I think when you have the traditions, I think it's like horse breeding or whatever. I think it's in the bloodline. I've always felt like that. You have a bunch of race drivers that come just all of a sudden, but after that you might see the one boy that doesn't care anything about racing, but the next boy they have loves racing. I think it's just like animals or anything else. I think it's kind of in the bloodline.
Q: Just one other point. I know it's hurt you to the heart what's happened with the split in open-wheel racing and this type of thing, but I wonder if maybe with all the teams coming over, and the manufacturers coming over, there's no question the IRL is the most competitive racing anywhere in North America. Even the other series admit that. Do you get some sense that maybe we're on the threshold of kind of a renaissance for open-wheel racing in America?
A.J. Foyt: I think what really hurt open-wheel racing was when they all started fighting each other and people going their different ways. It's the same thing that happened in baseball, and it's happened in football and basketball. But as far as competitive in racing, like you said, there's nothing right now in the sports field that's any better than IRL racing. I like NASCAR and that, but as far as it being a better race, looking at it the whole day, it's nothing like good open-wheel racing. Like I always said, a good sprint-car race on a half-mile racetrack--a heavy good dirt racetrack, not the way the tracks are today--to me was some of the best racing there ever was.
K. Miller: A.J., could you talk to us a little bit about the Infiniti Pro Series? Obviously, it was developed by Tony to be a development series and to develop drivers, the future stars of the Indy Racing League. We see a perfect example of that here with A.J. Foyt IV. As a team owner and someone who's taking really our first person from the Infiniti Pro Series and moving up to the IRL, do you feel like it's really done what it's supposed to do?
A.J. Foyt: I really do. The speeds are like from 20 to 30 to 40 miles an hour faster, but the cars are similar, like the Indy cars. The basic setups are pretty much the same thing, and you're running basically the same racetracks. Now if we had all been running a lot of different racetracks, I don't think I'd even consider him right now in the Indy cars until we tested him two or three years, but going to the same racetracks, he does have some laps. The only thing he has to adapt himself to is that the speeds are faster. But he's had laps on them, and so I think it's a good series. Because the cars are very close to the Indy cars, I think it's a great series.
K. Miller: A.J. IV, can you give us your comments on that as a driver? Do you feel like a year in that series is what has given you the confidence to make this step?
A.J. Foyt IV: Yes, I think if there wasn't the Infiniti Pro Series last year, I don't think I'd even have a chance to go into the Indy Racing League, because I would probably still be in probably the Silver Crown cars and stuff like that. But when the Infiniti Pro Series goes on the same track as the Indy cars, and it helps a lot, jumping from that to the Indy cars, because you know going in the Indy cars, you've got pretty much the same feel. You just have got to get used to going into the corners about 30 or 40 miles an hour quicker. I adjusted to that at Phoenix and at Texas, so I think I'll be able to adjust to it at the other tracks also.
Foyt, Foyt IV press conference, part I