91st INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE A.J. Foyt, Anthony Foyt IV, Larry Foyt, Darren Manning, George Snider, Al Unser Jr. Sunday, May 6, 2007, Indianapolis Motor Speedway MODERATOR: As we kick things off here for the 91st running of ...
91st INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE
A.J. Foyt, Anthony Foyt IV, Larry Foyt, Darren Manning, George Snider, Al Unser Jr.
Sunday, May 6, 2007, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
MODERATOR: As we kick things off here for the 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 here in the Economaki Press Room. Great sight wasn't it? Down across the Yard of Bricks representing 50 years of participation. As I think back to the career of the man in the middle there (A.J.) and certainly the one next to him on the right (Anthony). A.J., you scored a big victory at Olympic Stadium in Kansas City in about 1957 or so. Anthony, A.J. IV, scored a big victory in his career at Kansas Speedway. It's been quite an odyssey of speed and success here at Indianapolis and it's always great to see you. Talk about your emotions, A.J., as we saw those cars stream by.
A.J. FOYT: It brought back a lot of memories. I didn't realize time flies by as fast as it did, and like I said, I had many, many great days here. You know, good days and bad days. The good offset the bad in the long run. I think Anthony was talking about the '77 car "How'd you get in this thing and take the steering wheel off?" I said, "Anthony, they don't." You got to put your legs in straight and slide down. So, Darren thought it was a modern sequential shift. He realized it wasn't and kept stalling, and he looked like an amateur. But it's a lot different day, and I look the same way with the cars now. All the controls are right on the steering wheel where with the older cars, you had to have a little finesse. That's all, boys.
MODERATOR: Well, obviously we've got a great group. It's great to have Al Unser Jr. back with us; a two-time winner here. Darren Manning, who was so spectacular early in the year. We're glad to have you with the ABC team. A.J. IV of course, the inaugural winner of the Indy Pro Series. Good to have him with us. Larry, you're here in a variety of capacities this year, and George Snider, of course. One of the guys, the last starts he would be able to put a car into the show in the 11th hour and do so superbly, and it should be remembered he was the first United States Auto Club Silver Crown champion in 1971, and he was competitive until the very minute that he stepped out of one of those cars. In fact, looks like about 1996 or something you finished on the podium in Sacramento; a race I was at. So, we're delighted to have all of you here. Anthony, what was it like out there? So, we learned about the cars being just a little different, huh?
ANTHONY FOYT IV: Yeah, it was definitely a little bit different and at least I didn't stall it like my man right here. But it was really cool to be out there with Larry and be able to pull up beside him going down the backstretch; it was really cool. It was definitely probably the coolest thing I've ever done. He just worked so hard to get where he is, and he deserves a day like this. I'm just glad I'm able to spend it with him.
MODERATOR: Darren, you're taking a bit of a beating here. What's this about?
DARREN MANNING: Not as much as he did at the Derby yesterday.
FOYT: He's been taking it all week for the Derby.
MANNING: I'm the odd one out here. I've got the best accent among the lot of them, though. I speak proper English, as well, you know. So, at least that's something I've got even if I can't drive in the '99 car. It was good.
MODERATOR: What an opportunity for you. I mean, you're here with the legend at the Speedway and there's a little pressure there.
MANNING: (laughs) Always, yeah. It's been nice. It's been a good build-up, really, spending time with him at the racetracks and listening to him and learning from him, as well, and it's really nice, as Anthony said, to be able to spend a day and celebrate what he's done in racing. It's cool for these guys, obviously, but it's very special for me to be able to share and let these guys have their day.
MODERATOR: Al, in something that A.J. alluded to, we think of his four victories here. There were also ones that got away. There were bad days, as well. You know all about that. There are glorious days here at Indianapolis that are about as high as you can possibly get, and then times when it's an awfully tough place to conquer. But we're awfully glad to have you back.
AL UNSER JR: Well, thank you. It's awfully great to be here with A.J. on 50 years. Of driving the 50 car, it's an honor, and when he called me and asked me to do it, it was, I was very proud to receive that call and so, yeah, getting out there and driving that '64 winner was a lot of fun. I didn't stall it, though, which was good. But it ran good. I guess the only thing that really comes to mind is my dad and Uncle Bobby, they're legends in their own mind. A.J. Foyt is the legend, and so I'm really proud to be driving for him.
MODERATOR: Yeah, it seems to me when Bobby was a rookie in 1963, your dad in '65, so the car you were driving was something they were very familiar with.
UNSER: You betcha. I'm sure they were. I was 2 years old, I think, when that car won here. So that was a long time ago so--
MODERATOR: Larry, you're here in a different kind of capacity this year. Talk to us about that.
LARRY FOYT: Yeah, and it's kind of bittersweet now watching these cars pull out on the racetrack and not driving so far this year. Like I said, the month's not over yet, but very exciting in everything we've got going on with our race team. I think you can just tell by the way we've been running this year that we're really trying to step up our program and A.J. when he asked me to come home and help he said, "I want to get this thing running the way A.J. Foyt runs." So that's what we're working on doing, and hiring Darren was a part of that. And so now having Al here to help at the Speedway, too, with all his experience is going to be awesome, too. So a lot of hard work we're putting in right now and just trying to get the 14 back up to the front.
MODERATOR: George, talk to us about the role that you ultimately got into with A.J. where you were the guy who put one of the cars in the stable into the field and did so well. That's an interesting and almost a lost part of the Speedway in some ways.
GEORGE SNIDER: Well, I don't know how it actually got started but it seemed like for about 20 years it just happened, you know? I was there, and I was the last one to qualify usually. But a couple times I came here with a car and got to qualify right off the bat, but usually it was a last-minute deal. The cars were always good cars, and I knew they were always good cars and I knew everyone that worked on them so I had all the trust in the world in the cars. So it's pretty easy when you feel that way about them. You can just jump in them and go.
MODERATOR: You came up in a similar way as A.J. and Al did, as well. Al did his tour of duties in sprint cars and the big dirt cars, and that's the way you guys learned your craft. My hunch is, sometimes you guys have a little more fun.
SNIDER: We have a lot more fun, I believe. I mean, the midgets and sprint cars and stuff are the greatest racing in the world and the champ dirt cars were. I actually, the champ dirt cars was my piece of cake, you know? I liked them more than anything. I liked the Indy Cars, but I didn't really like them enough to really be that competitive in them.
MODERATOR: Talking about fun, that got a smile out of you there, A.J.
A.J. FOYT: Well, one thing you got to realize talking about George and the Silver Crown, he worked with us on the 14 and 11car at Homestead the first race this year; we run 1-2. Yesterday at Iowa, you know, the 14 car won again, so Snider's been in Victory Lane twice this year, and he's doing a hell of a job. We're all working together and having a lot of fun. You know, Al forgot one thing. His daddy's kind of cheap like I told him, but Al, we he don't like to call Al Sr., but that's what he is. I'm the Jr. of the deal and when he drove for me in sports car we put Al Sr. and he got mad. "I'm Junior" he said. I said, "No, I'm Al." And anyway, you know a lot of people don't realize but you know, but Al drove for -- his daddy (Al Jr.'s) got his first ride with us. First four-time winner, next to me, and I was very proud and so ... Unser and I have raced sprint cars through the years with Bobby and I. I guess I was always closer to Al's father (Al Sr.) than I was to Bobby. I like Bobby and I think, (laughs) he's a little orangutan. Al's more straightforward. But, no, Bobby and I are good friends. I always tease him that he's an orangutan, but he says the same about me, so we're just even. But you know, Al's daddy and I are great, great friends. I was teasing him a while ago. I said: "Man, I got to pick up your boy again. I had to pick you up. You all are getting heavy." "Oh, you get with the program," he says. And so that's where we go way back. You know, we've been friends and I've known him since he's been -- (gestures with hands to show the size of a baby). When I was a-going, he was just starting and I called him the other day when our Silver Crown driver Tracy Hines broke both legs and his pelvis and I think as George called Al or Al talked to him, and he says "Man, the last time I drove them I was 20 damn years old (Laughs) I'm too damn old to drive them again." Anyway, that's where I go back with Unser. We ran California, Ascot, Phoenix and all of that, so me and Unser, the Foyts and Unsers have been close for many, many years. So I think it's great to have him driving for us.
MODERATOR: Before we open it up, just to clarify for folks, the USAC Silver Crown race is what A.J. is referring to. Tracy Hines was the winner at Homestead that was hurt in a motorcycle accident, an off-road accident and Bobby East, another second-generation driver, won at the Iowa Speedway this weekend, so it's been pretty good for that squad there.
Q. George and Al, how do you rate A.J. in the list of drivers and also, how bad was his temper?
SNIDER: He's pretty much at the bottom of the list (laughs). His temper is at the top of the list.
UNSER: Well, George is right. No, A.J. is, his team has made some gains this year and you know I can go back only to when I started racing here in '83 and A.J. Foyt was a threat of winning the race for what, the first eight to 10 years of my career. The big thing I remember coming back here as a rookie was we were having problems with the car, and I wanted to go in Foyt's garage and ask him some advice and one of my crew members, they said, "You can't go in A.J.'s garage!" and I said: "Why not? I can go in that garage," and I went in there and there was a lot more going on then I thought (laughs). But it was a learning experience, for sure, but, but he welcomed me with open arms and I could ask A.J. anything from day one. So it's a great honor, really, to be driving for him.
Q: A.J., when you were speaking with Tom Carnegie outside, you said every time you got hurt real bad, the dream was to come back here, and that's what kept you going. After any of those wrecks you could have stopped, and your legend would have been very secure. What kept you going, why did you keep coming back?
FOYT: You people writing in the newspapers saying I couldn't make a comeback, to be truthful with you. No, that was the biggest drive because so many people said: "He can't come back. If he does, he'll never beat nothing." Just I had to prove it to myself, and I would just say that I had that drive. I think that's what makes a difference in a difference in a football player, a baseball player, is you've got to have that drive to want to win or you're never going to be a winner, you know? And you've got to work at winning. It's not easy, but you've got to have that extra little push. You got a lot of great race drivers, but there's just a very few that wants to push the envelope a little bit further to win, and I've seen a lot of them that could've been winners a lot of times if they'd just push the envelope but they were happy with second or third or fourth. You know, I've ran them spots a lot of times, but I was never happy, and that's the reason I said the last couple years we were really struggling kind of and I wasn't paying that much attention. I was, but I wasn't. I had Larry come back home, and I said, "We've got to turn this damn team around or get out of it." I said, "This is embarrassing to me," and that's the way it was every race I run. Every time I got beat, I felt embarrassed, which I had nothing to be embarrassed about, but that's just he way I felt. And that's the reason we're working so hard right now to get back even, you know, with everybody.
Q: Of those five cars out there this morning, which of them holds the fondest memories? Or which of those five was your favorite?
FOYT: Well, I guess I'd have to say two memories. The '77 car we had my Foyt motor in which, you know, we bought from Ford and we had all the castings and all that and we changed the motor to Foyt and we built out whole car ourselves in Houston, Texas, and then I drove it. So that would have to be the best memory, but I'd have to go back to '61 of the first time of ever winning the race. You know, the '61 Offy and then you know, I have to go back to '77 because you know, we built my own car, I had my own car, and I drove it. So I think that's something that's going to stand a long time because how many drivers really help build their own cars, their own motors and drive it? That would have to be one of my proudest moments to win in my own car like that.
Q: A.J., of your long career, is there something you wish you would have done? Some race you would have done, something that you didn't; do that you wish you had?
FOYT: Not really. If I was re-born tomorrow, I'd rather go through it just like I did here with nothing. Standing on the outside of the garage area, couldn't get in the garage. No, I had so much fun through the years. Many, many hungry days and like I said, my big deal was when I paid $10 a week and rented a pace van and slept on kind of an Army cot. That was a lot better than the back seat of my car. So these drivers today don't know what that's like; believe me, it was there. But, I wouldn't' want to change nothing because we had so much fun, like George said, and these guys all have fun. But the world is different today and things are a lot different, but I wouldn't want to change at all.
Q: A.J., was that the first time that you and Tom have been on the mike together since the day that you announced your retirement here?
FOYT: You know, I would have to say I think we've had some interviews. A couple of times he'd come back to my garage, but that's the first time we've really been out on the Speedway and been on the mike. All joking aside, Indianapolis is a great place, but you hate to see people like Tom Carnegie sit down because qualifying day, I think, more people loved his voice. "He's on it" or "It's another new--" just his voice. You just can't, people just can't match that voice, and it's just wonderful. I know he used to get everybody so fired up when someone would break the track record. People like that, you just can't replace. You've got a bunch of great announcers, don't get me wrong, but you just have some of them that stand out, and I'd have to say he's one of them that stands way above a lot of the other ones. I mean, they're good, but he's just got a different technique to the way he talks to the world, and I think that's one thing people love about him. Like he said, he was scared of me when he came down, hell, him coming from Indianapolis, I was scared of him, too, so that was kind of a two-way street.