A.J. has been a force and a presence in Indy as well as Winston Cup racing. Now, he is tak
Foyt has a final inspirational word for his indy driver, Billy Boat.
Born in Houston in 1935, A.J. grew up around racing. His father's (Tony) shop specialized in racecars, and he even campaigned a Ford-powered midget. Before A.J. entered elementary school, he had already decided that his future was in racing. He became a regular on the Midwestern midget racing circuit in the early '50s.
Foyt was a winner from the get-go. And versatility was one of his strengths. He has scored victories in virtually every North American racing venue--midgets, sprint cars, Indy cars, stock cars, and sport cars, on circuits ranging from quarter-mile dirt ovals to road courses to 2.5-mile superspeedways.
"SuperTex" won seven NASCAR Stock Car races, including the '72 Daytona 500--the "Super Bowl" of Stock Car racing. He also won the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race in 1967 with Dan Gurney as codriver and claimed the International Race of Champions (IROC) All-Star Series title in 1976 and 1977.
He is the only driver ever to win all those major events. And he qualified for a record 35 consecutive Indy 500s, while amassing 41 USAC Stock Car wins and 50 Sprint Car, Midget, and Dirt Champ Car wins. All told, he has won 12 major driving championships in various categories.
Foyt was the inaugural inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1989, and he leads the list of inductees announced for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Alabama, later this year. Joining Foyt in the Class of 2000 will be Formula 1 champions Mario Andretti, Ayrton Senna (posthumously), and Nelson Piquet; drag-racing legend Don "The Snake" Prudhomme; and land speed record-holder Craig Breedlove.
Foyt retired from driving Indy-cars in 1993 to concentrate his efforts on team ownership, where he has continued the same winning formula. Kenny Brack won the '98 Indy Racing League (IRL) title in Foyt's car, and Brack won the Indianapolis 500 in 1999, putting Foyt in the winner's circle at Indy for the fifth time, but his first time solely as a car owner. Scott Sharp shared the '96 IRL title in a Foyt-owned car. A.J. currently campaigns two IRL cars and formed a new Winston Cup team late last year, driven by former Craftsman Truck Series ace Mike Bliss.
Is there anything left for Foyt to do? You bet.
"Victory in the future is always what you're looking for," Foyt said. "I still have so much I'd like to accomplish as a team owner."
Foyt's accomplishments in Indy cars are legendary. He also is the only driver to compete in Indy-style, USAC short track, IMSA sports car and NASCAR Stock Car events in the same season--a feat he performed many times. But his four Indianapolis 500 wins, and mastery of the speedway, solidify him as one of the premier racers in the world.
In many regards, Foyt stands alone atop the heap of drivers who have raced at the Brickyard. He holds numerous records, including most career and consecutive starts (35), most competitive laps and miles during a career (4,909 laps, 12,272.5 miles), most races led (13), and most times led during a career (39). His first win at Indy came in 1961.
"It was a race where Eddie Sachs and I had a great race all day long," said Foyt, recalling that first win. "It looked like I could beat him, and it looked like I had it won, then all of a sudden we had to pit for a late fuel stop. I didn't know what happened, but we had a late fuel malfunction on the last pit stop.
"So right there at the end I had to make a late stop. And when I did, naturally I gave the race to Eddie Sachs. Everybody just felt bad, because here we had it won, we thought, all day and then we lost it. But fate turned around because he wore his right front tire out and had to stop, with two or three laps to go, I believe. So the race was given back to me."
Foyt set a new race speed record that day of 139.131 mph. His take of the purse was right at $118,000--which pales in comparison to '99 winner Kenny Brack's take of well over $1.4 million.
It would be three more years before A.J. would taste the customary drink of milk in Victory Lane at Indianapolis.
"In 1964, everyone knew Ford Motor Company would dominate the race," recalled Foyt (his car was powered by an Offenhauser engine). "I knew we didn't have a car that could actually outrun them, but we knew we had a car that could pressure them all day long. And the way it turned out, I ended up lapping the field. It was just one of those races where it was my day, and everything worked perfect."
Foyt averaged a record 147.350 mph for his second victory and became the last driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in a front-engine car. Yet the day was anything but perfect even though Foyt ran away with the race. He lost two good friends (Eddie Sachs and Dave MacDonald) that day in a terrible tragedy on the second lap. The race was stopped for 1 hour and 42 minutes after the fiery crash at the head of the straightaway.
"It kinda made me sick to my stomach," said Foyt, "but I tried to dial that out while the race was on. Even though I won and I was happy, it was a sad finish."
The 1967 Indianapolis 500 was a classic with all the thrill and suspense famed car owner Andy Granatelli--and his turbine-powered racecar--could throw. And A.J. was at the right place and right time to snatch victory away from defeat.
"We ran good that day," Foyt said. "We knew we didn't have a shot at the turbine (driven by Parnelli Jones who led 171 laps that day). One thing we knew was that we could keep pressure on him all day.
"Parnelli was driving a great race and had lapped everybody. And all I could do was run as hard as I could. Then, with a few laps to go he broke. And naturally we were real happy because we knew they had such a big advantage over us. I don't think you could compare a turbine engine car against a piston engine car. "Ours was a rear-engine car. It was the second Coyote we built. What really made me feel good is I built my own car, drove my own car, and my father was chief mechanic."
Foyt averaged a record 151.207 mph to become the fourth three-time winner of the race. He weaved his way through a main straightaway wreckage of five cars to take the checkered flag as the red flag was waved. He won a little over $171,000 for the day's work.
A.J.'s fourth and final Indy 500 victory wouldn't come until 10 years later in 1977.
"I ran out of fuel that day and had to make up about 32 seconds on Gordon Johncock," said Foyt. "He was driving for (George) Bignotti. My chief mechanics at that time were Jack Starne and my father. I told Jack on the radio he'll let us get within 10 seconds, then he'll start asking to go. At that time, you could turn the boost up to whatever.
"We were catching him about second-and-a-half to two seconds a lap. The race was gettin' toward the end, and I had him. Then, when it went to 10 seconds, I felt like then I was going to have to turn the boost up. Then it went 10, nine, eight, seven. I come back on the radio and told Jack they must be in trouble because I knew Bignotti would not let me get no closer than 10 seconds after I drove for him. He knew what kind of racer I was and if I got within striking distance, I would do anything to try to win.
"He knew I'd hang it out for miles if I had to win the race. Then all of a sudden just as I got to Gordy, he broke a motor. They were in trouble, and I didn't know it when I was catchin' 'em. They must have turned up the boost, then they broke. I knew I was catchin' 'em pretty quick.
"I would say my first race was my happiest race I ever qualified for, then naturally the first win. And I would say to be the first to win the race four times with Mr. Hulman (Speedway owner Tony Hulman). Him and me rode around the racetrack together. He was like a second father to me and such a sweetheart of a guy. I think Mr. Hulman was awful glad to see me win, especially when he knew me when I had nothing and watched me come up through the years."
Foyt and Tom Sneva, who set a qualifying speed record of 198.884 mph, were the only drivers to complete 200 laps. Johncock broke a crankshaft on the start of Lap 185 and pulled off in the grass in Turn 1. Foyt averaged 161.331 mph for his final Indy victory. He won nearly $260,000 for the win. He would try 15 more times to win at the famed Brickyard, finally retiring while preparing for the 500 in 1993.
Today, as an owner, Foyt continues his winning tradition with two IRL titles and 7 series race victories. His IRL stable in 2000 consists of two G Force/Aurora cars with veteran Eliseo Salazar driving the #11 and Jeff Ward in the #14.
A.J. ventured "down south" to compete in NASCAR from time to time during the '60s through the '80s, starting from the pole 10 times, and winning seven times in 128 starts. He won two consecutive Firecracker 400s at Daytona in 1964 and 1965, and the Daytona 500 in 1972.
Just as in Indy cars, Foyt won very quickly. He nipped Bobby Issac on the final lap of the '64 Firecracker 400 in only his 10th NASCAR start. Both men drove Dodges for owner Ray Nichles. Foyt and Issac swapped the lead back and forth the final 125 miles with A.J. making the pass to win on the backstretch of the last lap. Richard Petty dominated the day, but fell out with engine problems a little more than halfway into the event, setting up the dramatic battle between Foyt and Issac.
"I didn't want to be ahead of Issac going into the last lap," said Foyt. "I went way down low on the backstretch and managed to get by before we hit the corner."
Foyt won back-to-back 500-milers at the now defunct 2.5-mile Ontario Speedway in Ontario, California, in 1971 and 1972, driving for the famed Wood brothers. Ironically, the track was built as a West Coast copy of Indianapolis, but closed down after the '80 race because of financial difficulties. He also won on the 2.6-mile road course at Riverside Raceway near Los Angeles in 1970.
A.J. enjoyed enough success in stock cars that he made NASCAR's prestigious "50 Greatest Drivers" list in 1998 during the yearlong 50th anniversary celebration of the sanctioning body's formation. Quite an accomplishment considering the number of drivers that have passed through NASCAR's garage since 1949.
Foyt's NASCAR trek has now come full circle. At age 65 he shows no signs of slowing down, and late last year formed a first-class Winston Cup team with former Craftsman Truck Series standout Mike Bliss. A.J. serves as the president of the new organization that is based in a new 20,000 square foot building in Mooresville, North Carolina, just outside Charlotte.
Bliss was the '93 USAC Silver Crown series champ and drove some Silver Crown races in 1999 in cars co-owned by Foyt. A.J. won the Daytona 500 when Bliss was only six years old, and now is trying to prove himself all over again as a car owner.
The team is sponsored by financial services provider Conseco and will race Pontiacs this season.
Foyt's nephew Tommy LaMance, the team manager of A.J.'s two-car IRL team, is vice president of the Cup team; veteran crew chief Waddell Wilson is serving as general manager; and Dick Hutcherson, a race-winning NASCAR driver and car builder who has long been associated with Foyt's stock car program, is also involved.
Foyt said the decision to return to NASCAR full time and to get involved for his sponsor was a simple one.
"The biggest thing was that Conseco and I have been involved in a lot of stuff through the years, and they looked at getting involved in NASCAR and really investigated what they wanted to do," Foyt said.
"I have always really enjoyed running with NASCAR and did it all the time, as much as possible through the years.
"As many friends as I've got down here (in the South), it was just something we felt we had to do. And you know, it's just good racing--that's it."
For Mike Bliss, it is a dream come true. Bliss says he believes in A.J. and is determined to make A.J. believe in him.
"A.J. is a positive role model for me," said Bliss. "He knows what it takes to be successful. He's got a good eye for balance and what he suggests works."
Asked about Foyt's legendary temper and if it would be intimidating driving for a four-time Indy 500 champion, Bliss replied, "It's not intimidating at all having him as a boss. If anything, he is helping me. He tells us what he sees, and what he thinks. I've always looked up to him, so what he says, I believe."
The 20th Century produced extra-ordinary drivers in all forms of motorsports: drivers such as Mario Andretti, Craig Breedlove, Sir Malcom Campbell, Dale Earnhardt, Juan Manuel Fangio, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, Jeff Gordon, Dan Gurney, Jack Ingram, Sterling Moss, Richard Petty, Johnny Rutherford, Ayrton Senna, Jackie Stewart, Al Unser, and Darrell Waltrip, just to name a few. Anthony Joseph "A.J." Foyt Jr., one of best drivers to ever strap into a racecar, is among the greatest.
No superlative or adjective does justice to describe the brilliant career of this man. Foyt loves to race, and he loves to win. A.J. is as competitive as they come. He cannot stop himself. At age 65 he has two IRL teams and a Winston Cup team. He is not in the sport to place.
He can be tough on those who drive for him, and on those who work for him. He has been seen throwing laptop computers to the ground in the pits. He once started a fight in Victory Lane in Texas when he thought his driver, Billy Boat, won the 500-miler instead of Arie Luyendyk.
But beyond the temper, and beyond the wins, and beyond all of the trophies from all those wins, stands a man of conviction, a man with passion--passion for winning and a passion for life. There is another side to SuperTex. There is someone deep in there that drives that passion upward.
Former driver and car builder Dick Hutcherson, a key figure in Foyt’s stock car operation over the years, tells a story of another side of A.J.
"We were in Daytona one year," explains Hutcherson, "and a young man got killed in the qualifying race. Now, everybody thinks A.J.’s such a hard guy, but he told me to find that boy’s dad and make sure he had all the money he needed to get that boy home. And he didn’t want anyone to know where the money came from. A.J. and I always got along well, we had a lot of good times together and we raced a lot together."
A.J. has done it all, and, like Frank Sinatra, he has done it his way. No driver was as versatile as Foyt in their career. He could win in anything--and did so often. Truly, he is the "Driver of the Century."
In addition to his three race teams, he operates A.J. Foyt Enterprises, a race shop based in Waller, Texas just west of Houston, which he founded in 1965. Foyt’s other business interests include car dealerships (he once owned the largest Chevrolet dealership in Texas), funeral service businesses, oil investments, and raising thoroughbred horses. He has several cattle and horse ranches in Texas.
A.J. lives in Houston with his wife Lucy. They have a daughter, Terry, and three sons, Anthony Joseph III (Tony), Jerry, and Larry. His sons are all pursuing some form of motor sports. Jerry is involved in stock car racing; Larry is racing go-karts in the Houston area; and A.J. Foyt III is campaigning his son, A.J. Foyt IV, in racing junior dragsters in Texas.