Q & A: Foyt Discusses All Things IndyCar
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas – One of his many hired drivers, Eddie Cheever Jr., perhaps said it most eloquently about the man, the myth, the legend that is Super Tex: “If A.J. Foyt didn’t exist, we would have to invent him.”
An open-wheel staple for over 50 years, Foyt’s legacy is linked to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as first four-time winner of the Indy 500. The Houston native also is the only driver to win the Indy 500 (1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977), NASCAR’s Daytona 500 (1972) and the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans (1967).
Retired since 1993, Foyt still holds IZOD IndyCar Series records for most career victories (67), most national championships (seven) and most victories in one season (10 in 1964).
At Texas Motor Speedway, Foyt forever will be remembered for the conclusion of the Indy Racing League’s inaugural True Value 500k night race on June 7, 1997. Foyt and driver Billy Boat were celebrating in Victory Lane when Arie Luyendyk interrupted, claiming that a scoring error had occurred and that he was the winner. Foyt answered with a back-handed slap across the head that dropped Luyendyk to the ground – a scene right out of a Saturday night short-track race that arguably stands as the seminal moment of TMS’ inaugural season.
While the sanctioning U.S. Auto Club reversed the decision the following morning and gave the win to Luyendyk, Foyt still has the original trophy on display at his race shop in Hockley. And TMS president Eddie Gossage has an open invitation to come and get it.
Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr., who turned 77 in January, offered his opinion on a variety of subjects relating to the IndyCar Series prior to Saturday’s Firestone 550k at TMS:
RT: What’s your view of the state of the IndyCar Series under the stewardship of Randy Bernard, the
president/CEO who is under fire on a number of issues dating to the 2011 season-finale?
A.J.: “Let’s put it like this – a lot of people are unhappy with him, but he’s brought more to the series than almost anybody else has. We’ve got three motor manufacturers, where before we had one. I think this year here we had the best (Indianapolis) 500-mile race they’ve had in 10 years. The cars are kind of on an even platform right now – everybody’s startin’ over and have to learn a lot of stuff, where other people had a lot of advantage when they had big sponsors. So it gives the little guy a chance to develop with the big guys.
“So I can’t say it’s all been bad. You know, you’re never happy any time you have changes. But the biggest thing I think people are blowing out of proportion is because we ran the other (Dallara) car for approximately 10 years (eight actually) so you had a lot of spare parts. Now all them old parts are no good. But NASCAR did the same thing when they built the Car of Tomorrow, so you just got to go through things like that. All the races have been pretty damn good, so you can’t really bad-mouth him.”
RT: One of the main complaints circulating is that the new Dallara DW12 chassis has cost more than originally listed by INDYCAR when it was introduced in July 2010. Is the car over-budget?
A.J.: “Nah, it was always around $350,000 to $380,000. And a lot of them guys that are bitchin’ are the ones that live in Indy, and they got two cars $150,000 cheaper than we did (via a tax-break for working out of Indianapolis). When we bought three cars we had to pay full-tilt, I think $383,000 per chassis. But the biggest thing that’s costing us, a lot of people aren’t sayin’ it’s the accessories – the wiring harnesses, then you got Cosworth with the new computer stuff, you got your motor packages where you got to buy the blower and a lot of extra wiring harnesses for that. And that’s what runs that price up so much because none of the old stuff off the old cars or old motors don’t work with the new stuff.”
RT: Now that you mention them, what happened to all those old Dallara chassis?
A.J.: “Well, I got a barn full of ‘em. I can make you a helluva deal. But it’s just like you go into a dealer and you buy a car ‘vanilla.’ All right, then you want air-conditioning and AM/FM Sirius Radio…you’re going to pay for all that. And so that’s what’s run the car price up. You got to buy a lot of extrees. So it’s not just one thing like a lot of ‘em are hollerin’.”
RT: What do you think about the real possibility that this will be the last Firestone 550k at Texas Motor Speedway?
A.J.: “Well I hope it ain’t because I think that would be the biggest mistake they could make. You know, a lot of the race drivers today are not like the old race drivers you used to do an interview with. They’re a completely different breed of cats. Ninety percent of ‘em want to just run street or road-courses. When you look back probably the last 10 years – and I haven’t studied it – I bet more people been killed on road-courses than they have ovals. You know, when I was racin’ it wasn’t nothin’ to lose maybe two or three drivers a month. And it was terrible that we lost Dan Wheldon (at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16), but then you look at how terrible an accident Kenny Brack had here (October 2003). Who would have ever thought he’d live through that?
“And the way I look at racing, I don’t care if it’s on an oval or a street course – and the two times I been seriously injured and damn-near killed was on road-courses, at Elkhart Lake (Wis., in September 1990) and Riverside (Calif., in January 1965). So thank God I was never really hurt on an oval, and I won on both of ‘em. So I can’t say ovals are more dangerous than a street course or a road-course.
“The way I look at it, I don’t care if it’s me or you, when our time’s up it’s over. I don’t care if we’re sittin’ here having an interview or sittin’ in a restaurant and somebody comes in and shoots you. Some idiot comes in and kills you. Life’s no guarantee and I guess a lot of ‘em that drive race cars think there’s no way they should get killed in a race car. Well, you know what your chances are when you get in a race car. I don’t care if it’s a dragster, stock car or what. When your time’s up, it’s up. And I felt like that all my life.”
RT: How seriously are you taking the last-race-at-TMS rumor at a time when ovals are disappearing from the schedule?
A.J.: “I hope they realize what they’re doing to racing. Indianapolis racing was formed on ovals, it damn sure wasn’t street courses or road-courses. So when they want to get out of all that, that’s kind of what happened to CART, don’t you remember? Same deal. They come here and didn’t want to race (in April 2001) and all that. I was teasing Kenny Brack on that. And it’s one or two that always starts rumors like that. So let ‘em sit out. They don’t want to race, you don’t have to come here. Let the people want to race come here. That’s the way I look at it.”
RT: You have a foreign-born driver, 28-year-old Englishman Mike Conway, driving the No. 14 car this year. Is he one of those guys who doesn’t want to run on ovals?
A.J.: “No, no. He’ll do both. I think he’s a lot better on road-courses but he’s giving it 110 percent, not cryin’. A lot of them guys that are cryin’ are guys that couldn’t make it in Formula 1, or they were test drivers. So you got to look at where they come from.”
RT: What is your health like right now and what is your level of enthusiasm for the racing lifestyle?
A.J.: “I still get involved in it pretty good. Larry, my son, has been running a lot of it (as team director). I got real sick after Christmas with an operation on my (artificial) knee (to remove bone spurs). I got a staph infection and lost about 40-something pounds and gained about 10 or 15 of it back. I was so damned sick that I told Larry one night in the hospital, ‘Right now, Larry, if I die I’m goin’ to be mad.’ He said, ‘Dad, don’t talk like that. Why?’ I said, ‘If I die it’s one thing. But don’t make me suffer for it.’
“But I’m still into it. More and more the last three years Larry, thank God he was here when all this happened. He’s got a new crew (chief engineer Don Halliday, assistant Raul Prados and shock engineer Cooper King) and when I see things not goin’ the way I feel should be run then I kind of step in. I still kind of know what it takes to get around a racetrack.”
RT: Your primary sponsor, ABC Supply Co., is in its eighth year with your team. I don’t know what a Wisconsin-based company specializing in roofing, siding and windows was expecting when it signed-on in 2005, but they’ve become one of the series’ stalwarts.
A.J.: “They’re probably one of the best sponsors I’ve ever had in racing. David Luck (president/CEO) and Diane Hendricks (founder and chairman), you couldn’t ask for nicer people. I’m just glad it’s not a big company that’s on the stock market. It’s all private-owned and I mean it’s just all family. And I feel that we kind of fit in with ‘em and I think they feel the same way. When ABC first got in racing there was not that many people coming (to the track). But I’m going to say that every race we go to, average, I’d say we probably have 500 people from ABC. And then we also have a deal that they wanted to start and we agreed to is they have an honorary crew member at every race, and you work with us on Race Day.”
RT: There’s an IndyCar race headed to the streets of your hometown of Houston in 2013 and a multi-million-dollar Formula 1 track, Circuit of The Americas, under construction in Austin. You in favor of either or both?
A.J.: “Well, I’m in favor for the one in Houston with the IndyCars on a street course. You always like to run in your state, regardless if it’s a street course. There’s nothin’ better than where we’re at here, on an oval. Austin, I got a home there. I look at it this way – it (F1) didn’t go over in Long Beach, Calif.; didn’t go over that good in Watkins Glen (N.Y.), didn’t go over in Phoenix. Especially when it did not go over good in Indianapolis, that’s like the Kentucky Derby.
“So what makes people think that it’s going to go over big-time in Austin, Texas? You don’t have the facilities out there, and I’m talkin’ about hotels and all that stuff. When the (University of) Texas plays (football) there, everything’s sold-out and they’re talkin’ about 300,000 or 400,000 people (for the race weekend Nov. 16-18). I’m not a gambler, but I bet you it won’t be that kind of crowd. I could be wrong.”
RT: Management at COTA has appointed Mario Andretti, your archrival, as a roving ambassador for the track. Are you interested in participating in any way?
A.J.: “No, it’s a different kind of racin’ than I’m used to. I know a lot of the Formula 1 people, they’re real nice people. They’re very smart people. But I’m not really interested in that type of racing, never have been. I was offered a ride years ago but I still like the Sprint Cars and IndyCars and stock cars. That’s just A.J. Foyt.”
RT: Amazingly, it’s been 45 years since you and Dan Gurney won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in that red Ford Mark IV. You going to watch the race June 16-17?
A.J.: “I won the race, I don’t need to watch it. I know they’ve changed the course, but Gurney and I covered more miles than anybody. It really was one of my favorite wins – Ford team, American drivers. We kicked their butt pretty good, Gurney and I did.”
– John Sturbin can be reached at email@example.com Comments