A. J. Foyt has been missing from action this year; except for a few of the IndyCar races plus an appearance at Daytona.
Generations of fair-goers in the Lone Star state have passed under the outstretched arms of the over-sized, Stetson-clad cowboy at the entrance to the Texas State Fair in Dallas known as "Big Tex".
Standing five stories high, this giant of a man has annually served in late September as a prominent meeting spot at the fairgrounds for families and friends and cultural icon symbolic of the largest state in the lower forty-eight.
IndyCar's own larger than life Texan, AJ Foyt, has cast an equally large shadow over automobile racing, bringing home trophies from around the world in everything from sprint cars to Le Mans prototypes. And, of course, AJ's image graces the Indianapolis 500's Borg Warner trophy four times placing him among the greatest of the great at Indy.
Foyt's final career IndyCar victory came at Pocono Raceway over 32 years ago now. That was June 21, 1981 and marked the fourth time Big Tex rolled into the winner's circle at the Long Pond, Pennsylvania race track.
Only three months ago, in April, Foyt underwent a lumbar laminectomy to relieve a sciatic nerve irritation, knocking the racing legend out of three consecutive races (including Sato's win for the team at Long Beach).
Foyt won't be present for this year's Pocono race as well, following hip replacement surgery earlier this week in Houston.
By all accounts the surgery went well, although the recovery and rehabilitation will take some time.
“I was a little nervous about this surgery," Foyt said from his hospital room, "but they had me up and walking the same day."
“The doctors tell me it will be six to eight weeks before I can travel," he said.
In most respects the Foyt Racing Team is today in the hands of offspring Larry Foyt, with the 78-year old AJ flying in on race day to fine-tune car preparation and race strategy for driver Takuma Sato.
"I run the day-to-day operations," said Larry Foyt. "With my dad going through a lot of health issues this season, it’s been a challenge."
Larry recollects one of the true stories about AJ that has become part of the legend, his race at the Milwaukee Mile in 1965 when Foyt raced a dirt-track car to second place against a field of paved-track cars.
"It was like driving a Greyhound bus against a bunch of sports cars,” according to Big Tex who won at The Mile a stunning ten times over the course of his IndyCar career.
Like the man, the Texas State Fair's Big Tex has had problems to deal with over the last year as well. At the conclusion of the fair in 2012 an electrical malfunction sparked a fire in the giant figure's internals, and the resulting conflagration destroyed the 61-year old signature piece of the event.
Fair board representatives claim that Big Tex will be rebuilt good as new in time for this year's Texas State Fair which commences on September 27th, 2013.
That's about the same time as IndyCar's own legend should be ready to return to his spot atop the ABC Supply telemetry stand.
Here's hoping for a speedy recovery for both of them.