An interview with A.J. Foyt, A.J. Foyt IV Part 1 of 2 K. Miller: Thank you very much. I'm Kimberly Miller, the Manager of Media Relations for the Indy Racing League. I'd like to thank you all for joining us today. We have A.J. Foyt, a...
An interview with A.J. Foyt, A.J. Foyt IV
Part 1 of 2
K. Miller: Thank you very much. I'm Kimberly Miller, the Manager of Media Relations for the Indy Racing League. I'd like to thank you all for joining us today. We have A.J. Foyt, a four-time Indy 500 champion and the owner of A.J. Foyt Enterprises. Then we also have with us A.J. Foyt IV, A.J.'s grandson and the Infiniti Pro Series champion for this year. For those of you who aren't aware, this duo made an announcement on Friday that A.J. Foyt IV will be moving up from the Indy Racing Infiniti Pro Series, which is the league's development series. He will be moving up next year to the Indy Racing League full time. It is a planned two-car team with A.J. Foyt IV and Airton Dare. So A.J., let's start with you. First of all, thank you for taking time to join us today. This had to have been a tough decision for you. Not only do you have a situation as a car owner where there's an 18-year-old kid who has performed very well, winning four races this year and the championship in his first season in the Pro Series, but this is your grandson. So I'm sure there are two different sides to the thinking process on whether or not he was ready. Can you just talk to us about those two different ways of thinking?
A.J. Foyt: Well, first of all, I've got to forget that he's my grandson, which you really can't forget. At the same time I look at him and this is his profession, this is what he's elected to do, and we still have college on the backburner. But right now, he's right out of school, and he studied pretty hard, and I just figured we would just start off and let him race for a year, and like I say, hope that he will go to college like Larry did, the other boy. I don't know. So far he performed good in the Indy Pro Series, but I didn't think that we would do what we did. I thought we would run good because he's run good in the karts and dragsters and everything he's been in, the Formula 2000, and the first race out he was fortunate enough to get the pole and fortunate enough to win the race. After that, he's performed very well, and we ran earlier this year at Phoenix in the (Silver Crown) cars, and he drove mine and he drove Snyder's car. Then we put him in the Indy cars, which he tested earlier this year before the Indy Pro Series where he drove, and he had ran fairly well there and had pretty good control. The biggest thing that I want him to do is actually try to learn everything he can. We want to win if he can. The same thing we approached the Indy Pro Series--just run and try to stay out of trouble, and run hard and run smooth. So far, he's lived up to everything we have asked him to do. So that's the reason we're kind of advancing him up the ladder just a little bit, knowing it's a big step. We were out at Phoenix a couple of weeks ago, and he ran good there, and then we were at Texas the other day, and he ran good there. We're just going have to keep climbing it one step at a time and see where he's really hurting.
K. Miller: I would like to point out to the media that A.J. Foyt IV, passed his Indy Racing League rookie test at Texas last week, so he does officially have his IRL license at this time. A.J., was there any specific point in time where you felt like you had made the decision? Was it early on in the season that after a few wins you said, 'Hey, this is going to happen; we're going to be able to move him up,' or did it take a long time to make that decision?
A.J. Foyt: Well, I've got my doubts because it's going to be tougher this year than it's ever been. I've talked to him, and we've had discussions about this, and I said, 'A.J., if you don't feel you're ready, we can run the league (Infiniti Pro Series) one more year and go there (IRL),' and he feels like he's ready. I said, 'Well, you're going to have some tough competition,' and he said, 'I know.' But he's had tough competition his whole career. That's one reason when he was running karts, he was fortunate enough to win the Chili Bowl, and he ran second at Daytona, and he's raced all over the country with different people. If it was just local racing, it would have been one thing, but he was going in a lot of different people's backyards. He's won at Phoenix, Ariz., out there in the karts. So all in all, when you travel around and you win against some of the top people--he's not going to just be beating the local hometown heroes. So I guess that's one thing that helped me make the decision that we would go and advance him, move him up, because he's used to going outside his territory and making challenges. That's kind of the way I did it in my early age, like when I'd go to NASCAR or when I went over to the East Coast and ran sprints. I loved to go in different fields and challenge, and I think that's what he likes to do, and I know it's going to be a hard road. He's very young, but he's got a good head on his shoulders. He listens to me pretty good, and like I've told him, 'If the car's not working, don't worry about where you finish or where you're running because there will be another day.'
K. Miller: Let's get some thoughts from A.J. Foyt IV. A.J., you're 18 years old. You're going to be the youngest starter in an Indy Racing League field when you start the race at Homestead-Miami on March 2. Sarah Fisher currently holds that record at 19 years old when she made her first IRL start. Tell us what areas that you feel like you're ready for it and what areas you really feel like are going to be kind of a learning process for you.
A.J. Foyt IV: I know myself I still have a lot to learn, but I'm just ready for the challenges. I know I'm going out there against all these other guys that have got a lot more experience than I've got and have raced on all these tracks that I haven't raced on yet, but I know I just have got to go out there and just pay attention to what my grandfather says, and really, I think, I've just really got to get used to the speed and running that close to the other cars at those kinds of speeds. I ran close with the Indy Pro cars, that close, but it was about 40 miles-per-hour slower, so it will still be kind of different, but I'll just go out there and just take it slow, take it easy, and just get up to speed slowly. I think I'll get used to it.
K. Miller: You found out that you had a ride in the Infiniti Pro Series this year during the month of May. It was your 18th birthday, and A.J. surprised you with a ride in the Infiniti Pro Series. Tell us how you found out that you were going to go full time in the IRL. Was it is surprise to you?
A.J. Foyt IV: I kind of knew that he was thinking about it, and just doing the test at Phoenix, he was thinking about it, so I just kind of tried to go out there and do the best I can because I knew that would help with his decision. Then at Texas, when I got my license, that's the first time I found out. I didn't know he was going to officially tell me there, but I did the same thing--I just went out there and did the best I could, and hopefully he'd finally give me the word.
K. Miller: A.J., can you clarify for us exactly what your plan is for next year? Is it a two-car team with Airton and A.J., and I assume you're still looking for sponsorship, or have you solidified that?
A.J. Foyt: No, we're still looking for the sponsorship of both cars, but we're definitely going to go ahead and continue with the 14 and the 11 car, and Airton will be the second driver.
K. Miller: And A.J. IV, how do you work with Airton Dare? What's your relationship and how do you feel about being a teammate to him?
A.J. Foyt IV: Even though we weren't really teammates last year, even though he was on the same team, I was in the Indy Pro car and he was in the Indy car, he always came out to the pit lane and helped me when I was practicing, and I was always out there when he was practicing with the Indy cars. But he always helped me on my line and helped me on different things to look for and to be patient with the car and stuff like that. Even though we weren't really teammates, he helped me a lot, so I figure we'll work really well together next year when we are teammates.
K. Miller: Most people probably know this, but in addition to driving in the Infiniti Pro Series last year, you also changed tires for Airton, so you were a member of his crew and actually had an opportunity to work with him in that capacity as well last year. Let's go ahead and open up to questions from the media. I would like to remind everybody that this portion is reserved for accredited journalists only, and we also ask that you limit it to one or two questions in the first round. Let's give everybody a chance to ask a question, and then we'll open it up to a follow-up round of questioning.
Q: This is for A.J. IV. You said it was a surprise to you to be able to drive in IRL next year. Are there things that you'll be doing in the off season to help you prepare for next year?
A.J. Foyt IV: I think that I will definitely just try to stay in shape as much as I can. I know you've got to be in shape to drive those cars. I found out at Texas last weekend that it takes a lot to drive 215 mph around the track, and it just takes a lot out of you, so I've just got to keep on preparing myself and not taking any time off, and get ready for March.
Q: A.J., when you were racing, it took a while to get up to the major leagues. It took several years of proving yourself and racing wherever you could to prove to someone that you could do it. Your grandson here has done this in one or two years of major racing. What's the difference? Is there some seasoning that you get when you travel around the country and learn how to race and learn people and learn different circumstances that he may not have just from one year of being in the Infiniti Pro Series?
A.J. Foyt: I think what's helping A.J. more than anything is he ran the shifter karts and he ran the regular karts at a very young age. When he was 9 years old, he ran the dragsters and went up to the nationals, and then he ran the Formula 2000, which he won the last eight or nine races straight. He's been taking step by step by step, so he's actually worked up to where he is today. It's not just in one or two years. I'd have to say the last seven years he's been really active. I can't tell you how many races, but they raced all over the country with the karts when he was out of school. He raced just all over from Daytona to Iowa to just all over, so I think that's one thing. I think the karts, the faster carts and the shifter carts, and things like that really helped him. Then when he got into the 2000 Series, I think that he ran them probably a year and a half, and the next step was the Infiniti Pro Series, and then he's there, and then moved him on up. So it wasn't like just two or three years and moving up. It was probably seven years of good racing with him.
Q: A.J. IV, Larry went into stock cars. You have chosen pretty much an open-wheel path. What happens in a driver to choose to go with one or the other? Is there just the opportunity, or do you really have an attraction to one over the other?
A.J. Foyt: Could I answer that for him? The reason I'm saying this is I was the one that pushed Larry that way, because at that time, Larry was in college and he went out on his own with ASA. Larry's kind of been on his own. I've kind of provided some of the things, and he's hired his own people, so really, A.J. was going to high school here when Larry was away from home, so I put him in the series to get him some experience. He hired his own people and kind of ran his own operation, so really, Larry does love the Indy cars. Larry did run at Colorado and ran very fast in Indy cars, and he ran a few 2000 races. I, more or less, did not have time when I had two other drivers to bring Larry along, so I would guess I'm more prepared to answer that question, because Larry would love to come back to open-wheel racing today, but go ahead. I'm sorry, but I just wanted to answer it.
Q: Well let me ask you, then--will that door be open for Larry in the future should you get the money for another car?
A.J. Foyt: It's very possible, yes.
Q: When A.J. IV was born, it was two days later that you drove to sixth place in the '84 race. Were you able to be down there for the birth, or were you up here in Indianapolis, and did you dream at that time that you had a grandson coming along that would carry your name and fame on into the 21st century?
A.J. Foyt: Well, looking that far back, no, I really didn't because I've tried to keep them all out of racing. I love racing, and they tease me a lot of times about the way I'm crippled after a day of hard work or things like this with race cars. I'm limping, and they make fun of me, but I said, 'Do you really want to do this for sure?' No, I had no idea. I figured that he would be with horses more than anything, because his daddy was very good at training horses and won a lot of races for us, and I felt like that because he loved horses when he was young. He rode horses all the time, and all of a sudden he went from four feet to four wheels, so I can't answer that. I never thought that he would go this far, and actually, Mike Cockayne, that was a good friend of mine and then his daddy's, actually they bought the first little dragster for him when they came home after I got hurt and they started living here in Houston, since I told my son that I couldn't take care of everything after I got my last injury. I said, 'Either we keep the ranches, but I can't do the work I used to do with my legs and feet the way they are today,' so the kids were getting older, so he brought everybody back home then. That's when, actually, A.J. IV got back into wanting to mess with the cars and the dragsters.
Q: A.J. IV, on yourself, what in your mind changed you from horses to horsepower?
A.J. Foyt IV: I didn't have any interest in racing at all except I was 9 years old, and my uncle Jerry and Mike Cockayne with--Water Works asked me if I wanted to drive a junior dragster for them. I was young--I was only 9 years old--so just anything for fun. I didn't still even think of the future at that point. That's when I got into the junior dragster racing, and then I got competitive, and then I started racing go-karts competitive. That's when I started really loving racing and knew that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
Foyt, Foyt IV press conference, part II