Q and A with AJ Foyt
MODERATOR: A.J. is a four‑time winner of the Indianapolis 500 as a driver and owns A.J. Foyt Racing, which fields the No. 14 ABC Supply/A.J. Foyt Racing Honda for Japanese driver Takuma Sato. You were back at the track yesterday (Sept. 24) for the test day at Auto Club Speedway. It was your first time back at the track for a bit of time due to some health issues. What was it like to be back at the racetrack?
A.J. FOYT: Well, it was a lot better than being in a hospital bed, I'll assure you that. I really enjoyed getting back there with the group and the crew and all that and really enjoyed it. It was a long day because I flew out there that morning and flew back last night. I'm kind of tired today a little bit, but we'll bounce back pretty strong.
Q: I know that Takuma is one of the 10 drivers who have won a race this season, and he led the point standings going into Indianapolis this year. With the team at the shop and watching the races at home, how would you judge the job the team has done so far in 2013?
A.J. FOYT: We've really started off good and run into kind of a bad luck streak, and that's racing. It's not going to be rosy all the time, and you've got to accept that. I think he's done a great job for us. It's just a couple mistakes that were made that really hurt us, and then we had a couple of other problems that weren't the crew's fault or his fault. But you're going to have that in today's racing or any racing. As long as the good offsets the bad, that is the biggest thing.
Q: The next stop for the series is the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston, which will mark the first time that your team has actually raced in your back yard of Houston, Texas. Talk a little about INDYCAR coming to Houston and the show cast for your hometown?
A.J. FOYT: You always like to run in your hometown. I wish I was still young and still driving, because before we came back here I was fortunate enough to win right here in my hometown. But I'm not driving anymore. I think he'll run good, and they'll have to beat him because he's very fast on street courses. You know, if we don't get penalized on something, we'll be in good shape.
Q: You mentioned it will be the first time your team has raced here in your hometown. As it works out, you won't have a chance to even look at the course until probably Friday morning when drivers get out there for the first time. Tell me about that preparation and going into the race, and not being familiar with the track at all?
A.J. FOYT: Some of the drivers will be familiar with the track. We'll just have to learn it and go there and learn it all real quick because on tracks like that there is practice time hardly at all. So there is no way we can study the track, because the track is not even laid out until after the (Sept. 29) football game. It's going to be hard on some of the new guys. Like Dale Coyne and some of them that have been here before. They know what to come with. But we've got a pretty good idea of where to start. I don't think we'll be too far behind.
Q: Given all of the battle that was taking place between the IRL and Champ Car and cars in the past when Champ Car raced here, did you ever think that you would not get the chance to finally race in your hometown given all the sanctioning body squabbles over the years?
A.J. FOYT: I don't care if it's baseball, football, and you've got leagues fighting each other, nobody wins. Everybody loses. I'm just glad it's one league right now so everybody is together and everybody's working together. It makes it just better for the fans. You've got certain fans like certain drivers that ran CART and certain people that like them in IRL. So I'm just glad it's all over with. I always said when I was one of the founders of CART with Roger Penske and Bobby Rahal was in on it and Pat Patrick was in on it, so I'm just glad that I was in on it, too. Then when they said I'd have to run the Michigan 500 instead of the Indianapolis 500, that's when I had my parting ways with CART. I said I'm going to run Indianapolis and not the Michigan 500. They were telling the drivers which race they had to run. Some of the Penske cars and Pat Patrick they were able to run Indy, but A.J. Foyt had to run Michigan. I said I'll see you later because I'm going to Indy.
Q: Given that it is back in Houston, A.J., are you going to be busy playing a host role at all coming up on race weekend or how is that shaking out for you so far?
A.J. FOYT: So far it's been pretty good. I'm just now getting back on my feet. I went to California yesterday morning and then I came back last night. We wanted to test out there, which is really my first day back at the racetrack. I was just hoping I was going to be well enough to be here being the grand marshal. I'm really looking forward to it. It's going to be a busy day. I won't be a hundred percent, but I won't be that far off. I'll work at it pretty hard.
Q: Since you mentioned about the health issues and we've all covered you in this town for a very long time. Can you tell us what's been going on? Were you in the hospital recently? What is the deal?
A.J. FOYT: The biggest thing is at the beginning of the year I had to have some back surgery. I had to have my back operated on. Last year I wound up having actually surgery for a rotator cuff, and my knee got a staph infection, and they had to operate on me three times to take my knee in and out and wash it. Then I got over that and my back was messed up from racing through the years. So I went earlier this year for that. I went to Indy and I went down healthy, and then I came back and kept having pain, pain, pain. That's when they said you have a hip that's all arthritic, and I had arthritis in it and it healed up. I said, what are you saying there is nothing you can do about it? I was having a lot of pain. I couldn't put my own socks on or nothing or bend my leg. They said you're just going to have to have a hip. So I said, well, get with it. I didn't know it was going to hurt like it did. It's been pretty hard coming back. So that's been the big problem. But everything's looking good now. I'm on the downhill run. Every day is like a new day with me. I'm not a hundred percent, don't get me wrong, but I'm up to about 85 percent.
Q: Could you have imagined that it would be 50 years later before you got back even though you're not driving, at least got back to run a race here?
A.J. FOYT: Well, everybody said when I started I was never going to live to be 22, so I don't know if that's good or bad. I wasn't even supposed to be around this long. They showed me pictures of my earlier days up on two wheels and one wheel. That's when you didn't have all of the roll cages. I guess I'm lucky to still be here. It's been a good life. It's been a fun life. Life is very short. People don't realize if you cannot do what you want to do in life, you have a miserable life. So far I've been able to do what I want to do and had a lot of fun. I've been able to feed my wife and the children. I'm no big, big, multi-, multi-millionaire, but at least I know where my next meal's coming from now. It's been a good life and I've had a lot of fun. So what else can you ask about life?
Q: How special would it be to race in your hometown again?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I'm thrilled to run here. I wish I wasn't so damn old that I could run myself. But time passes on. There comes a time when you have to quit. I felt like it was there the day I quit it at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That was it. I crawled out and I haven't crawled back in one since. Even though we go testing, a lot of people say why don't you get in one, and that would be like an alcoholic. You take to hearing all that and have a beer or something like that, and then you're right back on it. I know I'm too old to even try, but I fight. But there is no way you could hog tie me in one anymore.
Q: Where do we stand with team growth? You've toyed around with one or two cars, and where to go with two cars. I know Larry takes care of a lot of that. But is there any hope for a second car?
A.J. FOYT: The way I look at that, I would like to run two cars again, but getting a proper sponsor and doing it 10 0 percent, I'm not doing it until we can do it right. It only takes one car to win the race, and I know it makes it easier when you've got a team with two or three cars, because if something happens to one, you've got a good back up on the next one. But I'd like to go back to a two‑car team, but at the same time, it takes a lot of money now. If you can't do it right, there is no sense in trying to do it.
Q: We should expect a decision real soon about a road course race at Indy. How do you feel about the month being strengthened or having a second race?
A.J. FOYT: In my own opinion, I would hate to see that because Indianapolis 500 has been like the Kentucky Derby. It's a legend race, and I think it would take a little bit from the 500. Now after the 500, mid‑year, something like that, that would probably be fine. But I'd hate to see it interfere with the Indy 500 maybe a week or two before it opens. I don't think it's a good deal, and that's my personal opinion. I know a lot of people probably think it would be good, but I don't think you'd have that many people there. I just think it would take away something from the Indy 500. That's the way I feel.
Q: Where are you in terms of looking at Sato's status for next year and Honda's status for next year as well?
A.J. FOYT: Well, we'll be with Honda, and we'll probably be with Sato. We've got a pretty good combination going. I think we're going to work out everything. I definitely know we'll probably be with Honda. They're coming out with some new stuff. They've got a little bit to catch up with the Chevrolet products and the superspeedways. Now on the road course and all that, Honda holds their own. But on some of the big tracks, I think maybe the Chevrolet has a little bit more power than we do. At least it's proven that way, but they're working hard. Honda's a very good company, and they've been good to us. So it looks like we'll be with Honda.
Q: I know that back in the day you loved to build your own Coyote chassis and develop all of that. We're two years into the current chassis and yet I keep hearing fans call the car ugly. They don't like it. I wonder where you are with that? Are you a fan of this chassis? Is there any way to go back to the days when teams could build their own?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I think it's gotten so expensive with engineers and all that. Unless you had multi‑million dollar contracts to do that, I think it's a good chassis. It's a safe chassis. I don't think it's the best looking chassis in the world, but it's not all that bad. As things develop, things change. It's kind of modern and people are just not used to it. But at the same time, it's been a good chassis for everybody, and that is the biggest thing for the drivers is safety.
Q: Have you been able to keep a lot of your old chassis? What have you done with a lot of those?
A.J. FOYT: The ones I won Indy with, my personal deal, they're at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I've still got Kenny Brack’s, and mainly I got rid of them. I've got some on the showroom floor here, some of my old cars. I've got some of the Lolas and all that that I drove here in the back of the shop. I've still got them.
Q: I was wondering which race car driver today most reminds you of yourself?
A.J. FOYT: That would be a hard question to answer, and I tell you what, it's like a lot of people used to say, who did you copy or who did you want to be like? I always just wanted to be myself. I would say probably more my style and running Midgets and Sprint cars and some of the smart things I didn't do before the big races, the same as Tony Stewart. I'd say Tony Stewart is probably closer to my style than anything, because he still loves to run Sprints and Midgets, same as I did, even though he's running IndyCars and winning championships. He's still, he likes to play. Life is very short. If you can't do what you want to do in life, what is the use in living? I know that's about Tony. He got hurt on a little Sprint car race that probably he shouldn't have been doing it, but that's just life. He loved doing that stuff.
It's just like myself three days or four days before the Indy 500, I turned around and went out to Raceway Park and had my own Sprint car and won the race. Like '74, turned around, was sitting on the pole at Indy, went out to the (Indiana State) fairgrounds, and I looked back at some of the things that probably wasn't too smart doing, but at the same time, I love racing. If you can't do what you want to do in life, what is the use in living? That is kind of like what Tony is. Lot of people bad-mouthed him for what he did, but he's a hell of a race driver and he enjoys racing. So why penalize somebody on something they love to do?
Q: Just one other question for you A.J., obviously you've been focusing on your team and your health as well, and also being an observer of the sport, which team do you think has the best shot to win the championship this season?
A.J. FOYT: You know, Penske's awfully hard to beat. I have to go along with Penske. I know Target and Ganassi and them run good. But day‑in and day‑out, as far as I'm concerned, Penske is hard to beat.
Q: Being a fellow Texan, it's good to see you moving around again and what not. I guess my first question would be you've been able to be around this sport quite awhile and seen a lot of the changes from INDYCAR, CART, etc. With this sport, what are some of the changes you feel might need to be made or could have an impact on?
A.J. FOYT: Well, really, you're always looking, to me, to try to make it safer for the race drivers. And that's where the design of the open-wheel cars, and I'm talking about Sprints and Midgets they have so much safety today. Because when I was running, you didn't have any roll cages you just had a little roll bar, and when I first started running, you didn't even have that. And that's one thing I've liked about the IRL and the design part. Actually, the cars like we're running today, the Dallara, they've worked hard on that. And that's about all you can do. Every year they came up with something safer and have to modify the cars from the existing cars that you have. So that is a good thing is trying to make it safer for the race drivers.
Q: As it pertains to Tony Stewart, you and him have been pretty close friends?
A.J. FOYT: Yeah, we've been friends for years. We tease each other and cut up with each other. I would say he is more like I am than anybody I know of. I know a lot of people, and this is all I heard is people were calling in about he couldn't make it as a stock car driving, so he has to come back to open-wheel. Then I heard somebody called in and said do you know Jeff Gordon, and then do you know Tony Stewart? Do you know Kasey Kahne? Do you know Jimmie Johnson? And they all said yeah, yeah, yeah. They said you better realize where them boys come from; they all come from open-wheel racing.
Q: That's very true, too. I was kind of wondering with Kurt Busch just being signed over there and he has expressed some interest to run Indy 500 next year. If the funding was there, would you all listen or provide a second car for him to run Indy?
A.J. FOYT: Well, you know I think Kurt Busch is a great race driver and one of the few from NASCAR that could probably come over and do a good job. But this one race on and off, it's really hard. I don't care who you are. It would be like Tony Stewart was really good in these cars, but when you're out of them four or five years it makes it hard to come back because so many things have changed.
Like when I was in stock car, I won a few races over there. And if I'd go get one of the cars today, the whole combination of making the car handle it is completely different than when I was over there. So it kind of makes it hard for a guy just to bounce back for one race and do good. Especially with Kurt. I'm quite sure he'd be very capable of doing a great job, but at the same time, it would take a little while to learn. I don't care who you are. If you're A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, who, it still would take a day or two to learn.
Q: Given the developmental series coming up through the ranks and you used to have the Atlantic Series and now you have the series that Indy has with Indy Lights whatnot with the combination being so close with Indy this year and with the other chassis that they have in the other series, where do you feel minus a few penalties or miscues that you all had, where do you feel you are coming up ‑‑ I don't want to say coming up short -- but where do you feel the shortcomings are with that compared to Penske and whatnot?
A.J. FOYT: Well, you know, I don't think we're any shorter than Penske. But at the same time, he's got two top drivers. We're just running a one‑car operation like Andretti runs three and four cars. Ganassi runs three and four cars. So if something happens to one or two of them in top cars, they've still got more cars they're firing at you. So if you're a one‑car team and something happens, that's what makes it look bad for your team because you've just got one shot where these guys have three and four shots. So your odds going in of beating those cars, where the three teams have 12 cars, your odds are like 12‑1 you're not going to beat every one of their cars. And fortunate enough we were lucky enough and had a good combination, and Sato did a great job at Long Beach and run off.
Then Brazil, we had Andretti's cars all out run until the last lap, and then the GoDaddy car slipped under them. But like one‑two in a row, all joking aside, that's what makes it hard when the team has three and four cars and they're all top drivers. Only one car is going to win that race regardless if you got 10 cars.
But years back we used to run two cars. But if you can't do it the right way and have the right backing, I think you're just wasting money and you look worse. So you're better off with the one-car team and work hard and keep a great crew. I don't have to back up on pit stops. We're just as quick as most of them, and quicker than most of them. So all in all, it's just hard to beat the odds. But, like I said, only one car can win, and I like that challenge like that. If you've got four cars and still win the race, big deal. The other three got your butt blown off. So that's the way I look at racing.
Q: With your vast experience on and off the track, have you found like a best way for you to try to share, try to give that experience to help your team and your drivers?
A.J. FOYT: Definitely. I've talked to them a lot. Like I tell them in cutting up with them, I said you're not going to impress me. I don't care what you do, win, lose or hit the wall, because I've done them all. I've hit the wall as hard as anybody, and I've hit as easy. I've won a lot of races and lost a lot of races. Just do what can you do best because you're not going to impress me anything you do.
So I cut up with them a lot. If I say I feel like I make a mistake, I'll talk to them and ask them to try something different. So I work pretty close with my drivers. I haven't this year too much because hospital and doctors took up my time, which I don't like them at all.
Q: What can't you teach a driver or even a team member? What can't you teach them?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I think like Kenny Brack I had, and he won the Indy and won the championship and all for my team. I think they respect me because they know what I did in racing and that. But every driver has their own style, and you've got to look at it that way. Because if a person has a certain style and you try to get the car to handle the way they want it and things like that, it's really hard to change a driver up. You might throw out suggestions and tell him to try it and things like that. If he can adapt to it, fine. If he can't, just do the best job you can.
Q: I know you mentioned that you just wanted to be yourself, but I'm doing a thing on boyhood idols. I was just wondering, did you have a boyhood idol? If so, who was it?
A.J. FOYT: I hate to answer you, but I really didn't. Well, I guess I told you wrong. Back in the years when my daddy ran Midgets here in Buff Stadium. One of my idol’s name was Doc Coacy. He never went on the circuit or nothing. But he ran local. I'd have to say he was my idol.
Q: First time you met him, what was it like?
A.J. FOYT: Oh, I met him, I can't remember how old I was. But that was something like they took a picture. My daddy built me a car and painted it the same color as his No. 8. At the Buff Stadium, I guess, I was probably five or six years old, and I went around that track with him, and they took some pictures. So I'd have to say that was my idol.
Q: You were of course an idol to many. You, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones. First of all, thanks for all the memories. But did you think about that at all when you were out there racing?
A.J. FOYT: Well, not really. I was just kind of a loner to a point. I was just doing what I could do. I was just doing the best job I could. If I got beat today, I couldn't wait to return tomorrow and try to win. That was the biggest thing I had. All I did was eat and sleep racing. Lot of these guys today though if they get beat, they go on about their business. But you take Parnelli and me. If we didn't win a race, we didn't eat too good. So it's a lot different today.
Q: You had a long relationship with ABC Supply, your sponsor. As you look for a second team possibly, are you set with them, with ABC Supply to be your primary sponsor for Takuma or whoever in the 14 car?
A.J. FOYT: Oh, yeah, definitely. ABC has the 14 car and my primary sponsor. They're super people to work with. My whole career I've never had probably a total of probably 10 sponsors in my whole career of racing. I've been very fortunate enough when I do get a nice sponsor. I never went and stole other people's sponsors. These people I brought in new to racing. I'm happy I got ABC. We get along real good, and our relationship has been great through the years.
Q: When you started out, you were driving in some of these tracks that you were talking about. They were all little ovals and dirt tracks out in the country. Long Beach came along with a city course how do you look at the evolvement of city street racing?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I used to like a regular road course like Riverside, California, and things like that, but things changed. You really don't have that much land available anymore because the population of all these big cities, homes, subdivisions and things like that. About only place you can run now in big cities is downtown in city streets. That is one thing you miss. But things change. Same as you and I when we get older, things change and there is nothing we can do about that.
Q: Looking back, which of the 400 or 500s of the 35 you ran in was most gratifying to you?
A.J. FOYT: Looking back at the Indy 500, my biggest thrill was to be able to qualify for my first 500 in 1958. I would say that was the highlight of my career. Then be fortunate enough to win it in '61. I couldn't ask for nothing better than that. I mean, the other three were great. Don't get me wrong. I love being the first four‑time winner. But at the same time, the first one will stick with me until I die.
Q: What was the most disappointing race you had at Indy?
A.J. FOYT: I'd have to say in 1969 we were very fast. We broke a manifold couple two or three times. I'd have to say when I ran second and third or '75, '76, and it rained that one time when I came infield, and my good friend Johnny Rutherford won it, and they never restarted the race and we were fast. Then in '77, so you take '75, '76, and '77, I think I had a car nobody could run. I ran a second and third and finally won it. But I remember thinking was I ever going to be able to win again? And those three years, all I had to do was stay out of trouble, but it seemed like trouble would find me.
Q: You've been the one behind the grand marshal coming on to the track afterwards. How does it feel that you're going to be sitting up there in as in front as the grand marshal?
A.J. FOYT: That's hard to answer. I'm just one of the regular guys. Being a grand marshal is a big honor and great to be a grand marshal. But at the same time, I'd rather be out in the field with the boys.
Q: Back when you were driving, it was not uncommon for the Indy car series to race the doubleheaders, the twin 150s and so forth. Now they're doing that again. Talk about that race now coming up here in Houston where they're running those twin races on separate days?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I think it's good and it's bad. It's hard on the driver, and it's hard on the owner, and it's hard on the crew. Before when they ran them doubleheaders, you had to run both to be credited for one that same day. Now they are giving you credit on each one you run. So, like I said, I'd have had more than 67 races if they had given me credit on all of them like I'd win one day and get beat the next time, but things change.
Q: Do you think it's better to have back‑to‑back races on second days or split them up on separate days?
A.J. FOYT: I would say split them up on separate days. If you crash you have a chance to fix it the next day. I think things need to be changed like that in racing. The fans get a better show, and it helps a promoter where he can pay you more money and things like that when you have a two‑day event like that. So I think it helps all the way around.
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