FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 8, 1998 -- A.J. Foyt, the four-wheel racing wizard from Texas, perched on a work bench in an Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage last week and watched intently as his crew worked on Billy Boat's race car. ...
FORT WORTH, Texas, Sept. 8, 1998 -- A.J. Foyt, the four-wheel racing wizard from Texas, perched on a work bench in an Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage last week and watched intently as his crew worked on Billy Boat's race car.
It was the Monday after the Atlanta 500 Classic and only preparation for a tire testing session. Foyt is 63 and has done about everything there is to do in racing. He easily could be coasting through senior citizenry and not concern himself with such a trivial couple of days.
Not Foyt. He smells a championship, something that hasn't come his way in a long time. Even though he no longer is a driver, the fire flames in his belly again.
The Pep Boys Indy Racing League returns to Texas Motor Speedway for the Lone Star 500 on Sept. 20. On June 6 at TMS, Boat outgalloped Greg Ray under the lights for the victory that started Foyt's team on a summer hot streak nearly matching Texas' prolonged heat wave.
Boat has rebounded from crash injuries suffered June 28 at New Hampshire that caused him to miss two East Coast races to capture two straight poles. And teammate Kenny Brack has forged a Pep Boys Indy Racing League-record three-race winning streak that has propelled him into a 23-point lead in the standings with two races remaining.
"If you're going to be in this game you don't rest on your laurels of what you did before," said Foyt, a four-time Indianapolis 500 champion.
"To stay on top of it you're going to have to work with the crew and the drivers. And I've always been the type that has had hands on. I could have rested on my laurels and probably had a lot more fun. But to me, this is a lot of fun working with the guys."
Foyt, who captured his last major season title as a driver in 1979, credits his team's hard work and Boat's initial victory at Texas as the impetus to its summer success.
"After that first victory they got a taste of it, and they've worked that much harder," he said.
"Everything's falling our way, and it's not given to us. The guys are working night and day. We've got a good engine program, and the drivers are pushing the buttons."
Foyt realizes many people questioned his decision to release drivers Scott Sharp and Davey Hamilton after last season and go with Boat and Brack. He said the team had gotten stagnant.
"I know a lot of people laughed at us doing it, a lot of people laughed at me, but, you know, you can't stay stagnant, and we weren't making no progress where we were," he said.
Foyt and Boat got their first major attention at TMS in 1997 when Boat received the checkered flag, but an all-night scoring audit revealed that Arie Luyendyk actually crossed the finish line first.
Last June, Boat removed all doubt about his winning when he outgunned Ray through the final laps, catching the checkered flag in his Conseco-A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear by .928 of a second.
Some hard times hit the Foyt team in the next three weeks. First, A.J.'s wife, Lucy, suffered a near-fatal heart attack the next evening after the race. Then at New Hampshire, Boat suffered a broken left leg and pelvis when his car was hit during a multicar accident.
At Charlotte, everything changed for the good. Brack came on strong at the end to win his first race. Next at Pikes Peak International Raceway near Colorado Springs, Boat returned on crutches, slipped into his car and set a track record while winning his third PPG Pole of the season, adding to his poles at Indianapolis and New Hampshire. Foyt also was on crutches following knee surgery. In the race, Boat was in a torrid chase for the victory but ran out of fuel two laps short. Brack had barely enough fuel to get him to the finish line ahead of the pack for win No. 2.
The Pep Boys Indy Racing League circuit moved on to Atlanta for the first time. Again the limping Boat did no hobbling in qualifying and added his fourth PPG Pole of the season, second in a row. But in the race, the left rear wheel of Boat's hooked the right front of Marco Greco's machine, sending Boat sailing into the wall and out of the race.
Brack once again charged to the front with 17 laps to go to win No. 3 in a row over fast-closing Hamilton.
"It's one thing to have success and another to win races," said Boat, now relying on a cane for stability.
"We've been fast enough to win races and have been in kind of a slump. We need to start finishing more races and be there at the end, and hopefully we'll win our share."
Boat said that driving with a healing fracture is not a problem once the constant pain diminishes. He added that the focus in the car becomes so intense that the broken leg becomes a non-issue.
"I think when you're hurt it really give you a lot of incentive to get back in the race car," he said. "I think that really contributes to the speed of a recovery."
He noted that the incentive becomes even stronger when a driver has a team that is capable of winning races. And that's what he has.
"I think the biggest thing with this team is the competition is so close that it's the little things that make a difference," he said. "This team concentrates on details, a lot of little things that aren't big by themselves but can mentally add up and make that little bit of difference in qualifying."
Foyt, of course, heads up Boat's operation as race strategist and chief engineer. His nephew Tommy LaMance handles the team managing duties for both cars and Craig Baranouski the crew chief chores on Boat's. Working with them on Boat's car are Matt Lucas, Bill Spencer, Mike Tanner, Case Leeuwenburg, Mark Lubin, Rob Grossman, Curt Barnhart, Bob Barnhart and Glenn "Packy" Wheeler.
Boat said there is unity within the team garages.
"The bottom line is, we're all racers," he said.
"A.J.'s a racer, I'm a racer, Kenny's a racer. And we all have the same goal, we want to win. That's the common thread between us all. We all have the same desires and it helps us jell as a team."
LONE STAR 500 NOTEBOOK
Texas Two-Step: Billy Boat is the leading candidate to win the Texas Two-Step Championship and a $100,000 bonus at this event. The driver who scores the most combined points at this race and the True Value 500, completed June 6 at TMS, will earn the big bonus. Boat won the True Value 500 in the Conseco Dallara/Aurora/Goodyear owned by four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, a Houston resident.
The driver with the second-highest total will earn $50,000. Greg Ray, from Plano, Texas, finished second in the True Value 500 in the TKM-Genoa Dallara/Aurora/Firestone.
Event schedule: The inaugural Lone Star 500 is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 20. The Dallas Morning News Pole Day qualifying for the PPG Pole starts at 4 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 18.
Pep Boys Indy Racing League practice sessions will take place at 9:45 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 18, and 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 19.
Broadcast schedule: The Lone Star 500 will be televised live on ABC at 3 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 20. The Dallas Morning News Pole Day qualifying for the PPG Pole will be televised live on SpeedVision at 5 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 18. The IMS Radio Network will broadcast the race live at 3 p.m. (EDT) Sept. 20, with a pre-race show starting at 2:30 p.m.
Pit challenge: Team Pelfrey and Team Cheever will compete in a Pep Boys Pit Stop Challenge from noon-1 p.m. (CDT) Sept. 16 at the Fort Worth Stockyards. Team Cheever owner and driver, 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion Eddie Cheever Jr., and Team Pelfrey driver Brian Tyler will be joined by fellow Pep Boys Indy Racing League drivers for an autograph session after the competition to see which team can complete a simulated pit stop fastest.