The first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr., recently stopped by the Texas Motor Speedway to reflect on his 50 years in open-wheel racing and his future vision for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.
Foyt who will compete in his record 50th straight Indy 500 competed 35 times as a driver in the event, a record unlikely to ever be matched. He holds the record for the most career victories in Indy Car racing (67), most national championships (7) and most victories in one season (10). Foyt also is the only driver to win the crown jewels of motorsports: the Indy 500, the Daytona 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In addition to his stellar open-wheel career records, Foyt scored seven NASCAR victories and nine pole positions during his outstanding driving career. Winning two Indy Car Series championship titles with drivers Scott Sharp (1996) and Kenny Brack (1998), his current driver Darren Manning will pilot the No.14 ABC Supply Dallara/Toyota/Firestone entry for the 2007 campaign.
A special walking time line will be displayed at all Indy Racing League events this season which spans the career of A.J. Foyt and will included the car he won his fourth Indianapolis 500 with in 1977. When asked what he would think about when walking through he time line looking at all of his accomplishments he quipped, "Who in the hell said I was going to live that long to walk through there? I might be dead! You never know. Every time I check with some of my friends I ask where is so and so? Hell he died!"
On a serious note he grinned and stated, "It great to have been there that long. When I started I never thought I would be there that long. I really don't know how to answer that question. All I can say I guess is through the years I was very lucky and did pretty damn good. I am still A.J.; I am still a Texas boy. I am not Ivy League so that's all I can say. I am still a drug store cowboy, not a real cowboy."
When thinking about all of his accomplishments the one thing that really stands out to A.J. the most is that his parents were able to see his racing accomplishments. He considers that to be the happiest thing in his racing career.
When A.J. Foyt won his fourth Indianapolis 500, Tony Hulman CEO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway rode in the pace car with Foyt after the win, an unprecedented move by Hulman. Recalling the event Foyt stated that he didn't know that Mr. Hulman was that sick and how thin he was when he put his arm around him in the pace car.
Foyt remembered that Mr. Human had asked him to help hold him in the pace car during the ride. A.J. fondly remembered that he thought Mr. Hulman considered him a son. Early in Foyt's career Tony Hulman found Foyt in the backseat of his car asleep at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A.J. thought Mr. Hulman, "felt sorry for me." After that they became close friends and throughout the years, "I never used him and he never used me." Foyt added.
"I'll never forget before I won it the fourth time Mr. Joe Cloutier was his right hand man and they flew to Houston one day. They came strictly to see how they could better racing. I was awful glad he rode around with me and I guess that was the last time that ever happened."
When asked about the one most important change at Indianapolis over his 50 years at the speedway he commented that it is "5000% more safer" than when he started racing. Foyt feels that improved fuel cells, better seats and safer walls have all contributed to driver safety.
"Running a roadster is like sitting in a chair here" Foyt stated, "You had a seat belt and that was it." He recalled how many people got burned in the early years of his career and how the new fuel cells have cut back on the injuries.
Asked if he wanted to change anything back to the way it used to be when he started racing, Foyt stated that he could not think of anything he would like to revert to.
Concerning the split in open wheel racing between the Indy Racing League and the Camp Car Series, Foyt does not think the split will go one for more than a year or two longer. With Ford backing out of Camp Car racing he does not see how people can keep dumping money into the different series. He also thinks that the split has helped NASCAR blossom into the series it is today. With all the top names running in NASCAR he acknowledged that it is currently the top series.
On the differences in the cars from the two open-wheel series, Foyt added, "Champ Cars are mainly road course cars, turbo charged with different specs on them. I think that Champ Car will eventually fade out".
Foyt gave his thoughts on NASCAR driver Tony Stewart. When asked if he saw a lot of himself in Tony he joked, "I would hate to say I saw myself in anybody. I wouldn't want to handicap them that bad. I think Tony has done a great job. He has worked hard his whole life and he was I was, he came from nothing with the midget cars to where he is today. He has kind of followed my path like I did here in Texas. He is probably the best race car driver in NASCAR by far."
Commenting on Juan Pablo Montoya's victory in Mexico City in the recent NASCAR Busch series race, Foyt stated that if someone would have taken out Montoya at the end of the race they would have needed a helicopter is get out of the place. "It would have not been too nice" he added.
Foyt also added that he thinks Montoya will make the switch to NASCAR with no problem. "He is a hell of a race driver," he added, "I heard that in Japan he and Michael Andretti were testing and Michael moved over to block him and he (Montoya) hit him. Michael was in the hospital getting checked out and told Montoya it was very dangerous what he did. I don't know if it is true but Montoya responded 'I am very good and very fast so don't try to do that to me anymore because I am not backing off.'" On Montoya at Indianapolis, Foyt remembers that by the 5th lap of practice he was flat out and acted like there was nothing to it.
Larry Foyt, A.J.'s son has taken over the daily operation of A.J. Foyt Racing. When asked if Foyt's team would now be able to compete with the Penske's and the Andretti's with Larry on board Foyt stated, "If you look back through the years I probably beat them as much as they beat me. When we were trying to run NASCAR we were spread so thin I let the Indy Car team slide. We were hurting all the way around."
Foyt thinks now with Darren Manning on board and just concentrating on the Indy Car team, things will turn around and that they will be more competitive this season.
The hardest thing in being a team owner A.J. stated is the restrictions in racing. "I believe racing, I don't care if it is stock cars or Indy cars, racing is made to run as fast as you can and do the best that you can. I do not like restrictions in racing. I don't know where it has made it any safer because you take plate racing; you have 40 cars that run at Daytona. It should be 5 to 10 cars up front. If one guy makes a mistake he takes out half the field."
"Before when I raced at Daytona we were running 200 miles per hour and you have 5 or 6 of you that hooked up and you got away from that pack. Now days, it is like IROC racing, it is just a bunch of cars. If you don't want to run that fast then you shouldn't bolt that damn helmet on your head! Racing is made to run as fast as you can."
"You talk about wild driving, it made you pucker more than once with the old cars. These new guys are complaining when it is like running around in a Cadillac. Air suspension; air conditioned suits, power steering and all that padding in the floor board."
"When I won the 400 at Daytona I got out of the car and I was blistered. My butt, my ankles, my feet were all burned. The first time I won it the race started at noon. It was terrible hot. I called in and said somebody throw some water on me. I am dying in this damn thing! I am seeing black spots."
"I learned one thing. You don't throw water in the car. The water on the floorboard started steaming and I was like a lobster. The next time I came in for a pit stop they asked me if I wanted some water. No! I learned that the hard way."
Foyt also thinks a driver should be able to set the car up the way he wants without all the technical specifications that put limits on car set ups. He recalled that in 1969 he put wings on his roll bars. Little things like that should be the team's privilege.
Currently Foyt's team is talking about a second car at Indianapolis. The speedway would like for him to run a second car with the number 50 and Foyt's traditional colors. Foyt stated that he still gets a lot of fan mail and that one person wrote a nice letter that if he runs a second car, Foyt should drive it himself. Foyt added that the young kids of today would scare him to death. A.J.'s chief mechanic however reminded Foyt after reading the letter that A.J. was pretty wild himself 50 years ago.
On asked if Larry Foyt would be a possibility in the second car, Foyt reflected that it would not be fair to Larry to ask him to run the operation and drive the second car. A.J. mainly wants to get the No. 14 car back up to speed and to be competitive.
Although A.J. Foyt has mellowed throughout the years, the fire in his eyes has not dwindled. While talking about his career and racing, one can sense the history he has made in all of motorsports.
Since August 17, 1957 when he showed up for his first race at Springfield, Illinois until this year's 91st running of the Indianapolis 500, he has never changed his standards or his straight talk about motor sports.
Eddie Gossage, general manager of the Texas Motor Speedway summed up "Super Tex" as he is know in his home state. "I can tell you A.J. embodies everything about the Texas spirit. He's cantankerous, stubborn, hard- headed, my way or no way."
With today's million dollar budgets, sponsors and drivers, we will probably never see the likes of a driver/mechanic like Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr. again.