The Foyt name has been synonymous with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the past 50 years. The first four-time winner of the '500', Anthony Joseph (A.J.) Foyt always said that the Indianapolis 500, "made A.J. Foyt." Larry Joseph Foyt, three time starter in the Memorial Day Weekend classic and son of A.J. Foyt Jr, is back at the Brickyard with his father. His goal this time: to continue making the Foyt name synonymous with The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Larry Foyt has never missed an Indianapolis 500 race in 32 years. That is every year since he has been alive. Of course it helped being the son of the driver with the most consecutive starts in the '500'. A.J. Foyt Jr. had a record 35 (1958-1992) consecutive starts in the Indianapolis 500, most while Larry was growing up back in Texas.
This Texas bachelor, born in Houston, and a graduate of Texas Christian University, has the daunting task of bringing A.J. Foyt Enterprises back to being a top tier Indy Car team. Although not driving in the IRL or NASCAR anymore, he still has the drive and desire to compete at the Indy Car level.
Foyt's title since 2007 is "Team Director" over the ABC Supply/Foyt Enterprises #14 car operation during the 17 race Indy Racing League season.
"I just miss driving a race car," stated Foyt in the first garage in Gasoline Alley at the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Foyt Enterprises have occupied the first set of garages at the Brickyard ever since the new modern garage area was built in 1986.
"It was always great for me to show up at a racetrack. I love some of the days in the morning when no one is there and you get in the race car and know you are just going to go fast."
"It is nine o'clock in the morning and you are going 200 miles per hour. There are not a lot of people that get to do that and I always enjoyed all the aspects of competing, but I just enjoyed driving a racecar. Who doesn't want to drive fast?" Foyt said recalling his days as a driver at the historical racetrack that is celebrating its Centennial Era.
Larry Foyt raced three times in the Indianapolis 500 and never got the finish he wanted. He finished 32nd after an accident on lap 54 in 2004, 33rd in 2005 due to an accident on lap 14, and 30th in 2006 due to handling problems after lap 43.
As the Foyt crew worked on the famous #14 car in the garage the day before pole qualifying for the 2009 Indianapolis 500, Foyt recalled his early career in racing. When he was younger, driving was a lot of fun and he was having success. It was however, "a fight" because his father A. J. didn't want him driving. In general, he misses the competition of driving, but he also stated that he gets competition on, "this side of the game also."
On a weekly basis A.J. Foyt Enterprises competes with the world's greatest racing teams such as Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti-Green Racing.
"When I was growing up A.J., was still racing and he was very busy with his own racing and he never wanted us to race. My older brother Jerry wanted to race but A.J. was just closed off to that. He grew up in a different era and it wasn't as safe as it is now. A.J. just wanted something different for us. His main thing was that I went to college. That was the biggest thing for him."
Foyt beamed with pride on how great it was to have A.J. Foyt as your father. "I was always as a kid really proud of A.J. I was always bragging on him in school, taking trophies to show and tell. I was always really proud of him." Foyt, who if he weren't racing, would like to be a film director. He thinks the story of A.J. Foyt Jr. would be an excellent movie.
Larry Foyt received a B.A. in Communications from Texas Christian University in May 2000. His brother Jerry now runs a car dealership in Houston. In his younger days, Jerry ran A.J. Foyt's dealerships in the Houston area and he would sneak off and do some racing on the side.
"A.J. always said if you get your college degree I'll help you and he lived up to his word. I graduated and it was two weeks later he put me in an Indy car at Texas. That was the first time I drove an Indy car. I had driven some Formula Fords and stuff and that was a big step at the time" recalled Foyt of his early driving years.
"The (Indy car) series had just had the split between the IRL and CART and A.J. felt like 'Well look, we don't know what's going to happen in open wheel racing. You need to race stock cars' he said. I just packed up a Suburban and drove to Charlotte, North Carolina. I moved to Charlotte right then after I graduated from college and started racing ASA."
Larry eventually moved up through the ranks and ran in what was the Craftsman Truck Series, the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series and NASCAR Winston Cup Series. In 2003 he started 20 NASCAR Cup races and finished 16th in the final race of the year at the Homestead-Miami Speedway. He earned just over a million dollars in 67 starts in now what is the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
In 2006 A.J. Foyt asked Larry to come back to Texas and run the Foyt operation in Hockley. "There are a lot of guys who have been in place a long time at our company. When A.J. asked me to come move back from Charlotte and get started in this role, it was a tough decision for me to make, but one of the things I told him was 'Dad if we do this, I want to do this right. I don't want to come down there and just work there and everything keep going the way it's going.'"
"Obviously we haven't had the competitiveness in our race team in a while that we needed to have and I had already suffered through it on the NASCAR side. It was just really tough those years down there in Charlotte," Foyt said recalling his NASCAR days.
"It was horrible, to be honest, and it killed my driving career, and I said, 'Look, if I come there I don't want us to do it that way,' and obviously you have to have the right funding and what has been great is that we have gotten into a situation with ABC Supply where now we at least have had funding for a few years. That's really enabled us to step up. I think we have made huge gains on catching the rest of the field."
When asked if it bothers the elder Foyt that his grandson, A.J. Foyt IV, who is known as Anthony, races Indy cars, Larry added, "I like to think that I helped loosen A.J. up to the idea of Anthony racing. Jerry was the one who first got Anthony into a junior dragster."
"I think A.J. did have a little fun with it when I was driving, but I still see it even now when Anthony drives for us, definitely A.J. is a little more conservative maybe with him. He does fear and it would kill him if Anthony or anyone gets hurt in his race cars."
A.J. Foyt Jr. was injured in what was the CART series in 1990. The brakes failed on his Indy car at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The car sailed off the mile-long straight at nearly 190 miles per hour, flew over a sand trap, and landed in a dirt embankment. The impact shattered A.J.'s legs. Larry was just a freshman in high school back in Texas at the time.
"I remember we were waiting for the race to come on in Houston. It was tape delayed. My mom and I were sitting there and the phone rang and my mom was immediately upset and was throwing clothes in a bag and getting ready to head for the airport. It was pretty scary."
A.J. Foyt IV is driving the ABC Supply #41 in the 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500. He is engaged to Casey Irsay, daughter of Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts. Larry and Anthony were both guest of the Irsay family at last year's Super Bowl.
It has been noted that on the pit lane and in the garage area that Anthony Foyt has exchanged his burnt orange University of Texas hat for a blue Indianapolis Colts ball hat.
"The Super Bowl was great. I am really happy Anthony is getting married in July. Casey is a great girl and it has been awesome to get to know her family as well. I'm excited and she has been good for him. I think she has helped him get focused as well. He is more focused that I have ever seen him in racing so I think that is really good too."
On getting married, Larry has a steady girlfriend now, but he is letting Anthony get through his wedding first. Larry will be the best man at Anthony's wedding this summer in California.
Rooting for the Colts and living in Houston, home of the Houston Texans, can be a bit difficult for any one from the Lone Star State. Foyt laughed and said, "It has been fun. I guess I am getting old. I have been nursing an injury for a while and I couldn't even play golf the other day. Casey arranged for me to see a Colts trainer. They were really nice and I am hopeful that it is a merger of two great organizations and maybe we can all keep winning together."
Larry commented on the differences between NASCAR and the IRL for rookies and veterans alike. "There is a friendliness level between teams here that you don't always have in NASCAR, but the NASCAR veterans are always super helpful when you're a young driver over there."
"I remember guys like Mark Martin always willing to help you out. I remember one day I asked him to run me around in the pace car and he said 'no problem' because most of those places I had never been to. I think the same is over here. All racing is dangerous and when you get into these cars, especially in a place like this, the danger takes a little bit more of a step upwards so I think guys are very willing to help you out."
When asked about his ultimate goal for Foyt Racing, Foyt wasted no time in responding. "I want this organization to get back where it deserves to be and what made the Foyt name and that was winning. My dad definitely still has the fire. He is very competitive, he still wants to win."
"He (A.J.) has been miserable the past few years here with the struggles and it has just been a work in progress. I think we are really at a point where we have got a great group of guys."
"I think our crew is as good as anybody out there now and it has taken us a couple of years to sit back and say 'Hey, let's work with this,' because dad in Texas has always had guys who were not just Indy car mechanics. We have had guys who have come out of different fields into Indy car racing but they have really all worked hard to step up."
"We felt like this year with Vitor Meira coming on board and ABC Supply still backing us, we would have success. We really have been disappointed in the results at the beginning of this year. Obviously you feel like 'we have done all this work and we want that instant gratification', but this league has also gotten tougher. We all didn't know how tough some of the CART teams coming over were going to be."
"As you can see from the list of entries these teams are good. I am very surprised at the level of competition this year because everyone is talking about the economy. People said there is not going to be enough cars. We've got more cars here than we have had in years. The competition is tougher than it has been in years."
Meira, driver of the ABC Supply #14, was on a local Indianapolis talk show before the 1st day of qualifying for the 2009 Indianapolis 500. Meira stated that he wanted to be just like A.J. when he gets into his 70s. Foyt added that, "Vitor is a professional race driver. What I mean is, he works at it; he thinks about it all the time. The guy will call me early in the morning or 8:00 at night, and he is thinking something about racing. I just like that, the guy is always thinking about racing."
"He has shown he is very talented. He has been on the verge of winning so many times. I knew he was going to give 110% all the time and he really wants to do it, and he wants to win and like I say, he loves racing and thinks about it all the time."
Talking about long-term goals for Larry Foyt and A.J. Foyt Enterprises is easy for soft spoken Texan. "Five years from now I would love for them to say, 'You have to beat the big four, Team Penske, Team Ganassi, Andretti Green and Foyt Racing.' To be listed up there again with the front-runners would be the goal."
He has the same goal for the future. Foyt wants to be consistently up front again. "Every week to unload and know we have a chance to win the race."
A.J. Foyt Jr. turned 74 in January of 2009. When asked if Larry sees himself still on the pit lane at that age, he just laughs and states, "Who knows? There might be robots doing the whole deal by then. I hope I am around to see what racing is. I hope we don't lose what racing is now. I feel we are getting away a little bit away of what the purpose of the IRL was, but I hope we don't get too far from that.
Foyt was not against the road courses on the series but cautioned, "I like the road courses, I think there is a place for them. I like the diversity they bring, but if we get to the point where there are a lot more road courses than ovals, well I like the balance now."
On what type ovals Foyt prefers, "Some big ovals, some short ovals. On this side of it, you can argue that it is tough when you crash a car on an oval. Generally it is a lot more expensive so as you are on the team side now and you start thinking about expenses more than just pure racing, it is something that enters your mind," referring to the amount of damage suffered on an oval verses a road course when the car has an accident.
"At the same time, I think it brings up a general problem, right now all these cars in general are just too expensive. So I think if we can find a way to bring cost down completely across the board we can race on ovals and road courses."
If Larry Foyt had a magic wand and could reduce cost in racing the one thing he would do is reduce the cost of engines.
"I think what the IRL is trying to do is a step in the right direction in limiting a lot of things which has helped. I mean, limiting the wheelbase, things of that nature is good. I think right now, engines are way too expensive. Engine lease programs are tough, but I understand Honda's point when they designed this engine. They were competing against Toyota and Chevrolet."
"They (Honda) made an expensive engine and it has been hard for them to trim cost. I think when we come out with a new engine package, and as well as a new car package, that it will be a little less expensive. Just across the board I don't think there is just one thing. What the IRL is doing to the rules is a step in the right direction."
On the future of A.J. Foyt Enterprises Larry reflects on the life and legacy of A.J. Foyt Jr. "It is very tough. A.J. always laughs that he is retiring next year and I tell him you can't because obviously his knowledge about everything far surpasses what I'll probably learn in my whole lifetime. Even with engineers and all that, we draw on him quite often, literally all the time."
Foyt tells the story of an engineer with the team who is very smart and who is perplexed on how A.J. operates. "Every time A.J. throws something off the cuff, we call it shooting from the hip, we will laugh because he throws these changes out on the car. He (A.J.) throws these math numbers that the engineers are tying to calculate on the computer and A.J. almost hits it dead on every time."
On the second day of qualifying for this year's 93rd Indianapolis 500, the Foyt Team was lacking in speed. Once again A.J. made big changes to the set- ups and the ABC Supply #14 picked up three miles an hour.
"The engineer just laughs and says, 'I don't know how he does that, it is just amazing.' From that aspect, we use him all the time. My goal has been to keep getting people here to surround ourselves with people who a lot smarter than me."
Larry Foyt now has the task of securing the future of A.J. Foyt Enterprises. As far as being the team manager, he likes the personnel he has on board. "I think that is what a lot of great managers and people have done. If you can get the best people around you and really have that strength of that group."
On being a Foyt, and living up to the Foyt name and the responsibility that goes with it in racing Indy cars, "As far as being the legacy of Foyt racing, it is a bit, I don't want to say daunting, but it is scary on the fact that the things we have we wouldn't have without the legend of A.J. Foyt."
ABC Supply, the primary sponsor of A.J. Foyt Enterprises lost the company's founder, Ken Hendricks, when he died a few months ago. "I know we haven't given them the results we've wanted", added Foyt, "but our company and their company are similar. Ken Hendricks was a self-made man who built this company the same as A.J. Foyt did."
"Our two companies together have meshed well. We are two family companies. I've been working hard to try to get results because, hopefully it is a long time in the future, there will be a day come when A.J. is not with us."
"It scares me. Us not having him is going to really hurt us if we don't have the results to sell sponsorships because at the end of the day that is what it is. We can't race without sponsors. Having him around has been just huge on us keeping the sponsors we have and I hope he is with us a long time, I think he will be."
"He has been a lot of fun and our relationship has come a long way since I have been down here working with him."
If Larry Foyt succeeds in bringing A.J. Foyt Enterprises back to the "Big 4," there will be no doubt that the Foyt name at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be around for another half century.