Foyt, Andretti defend oval racing, slam Jimmie Johnson
With the Izod IndyCar Series facing scrutiny after Dan Wheldon's fatal crash Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the series' two greatest legends staunchly defended its oval-track tradition Tuesday..J. Foyt and Mario Andretti condemned five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson and others for calling on IndyCar stop racing on ovals because it was too easy for cars to get airborne.
"I don't think Jimmie Johnson knows what he's talking about," said Foyt, a four-time Indianapolis 500 winner whose name adorns the trophy given to IndyCar's best oval driver. "He's never drove one, and he's pretty stupid to make a statement like that. You could say the same about stock cars. I've driven both, and I've been hurt real bad in both."
Other drivers took to support Johnson's position on Twitter and elsewhere. Former Formula One driver David Coulthard wrote in London's Daily Telegraph that he passed on a chance to race in IndyCar because "the risk-ratio reward was simply too high. Formula 1 was at an acceptable level but IndyCar was, and is, probably 20 years behind in terms of safety. The main reason is simple: speed. There is no need to be racing at 225 mph, wheel-to-wheel, around mostly oval circuits."
Andretti said Wheldon's crash was "a fluke, freakish accident" that would be addressed next year with a new chassis designed to keep cars on the pavement by preventing wheel-to-wheel contact.
"We've come a long way," said Andretti, who, along with Foyt, won the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. "In the '60s and '70s, open-wheel drivers had a 35-40% chance of surviving a career. Today, it's a 99.9% chance of retiring on their own terms. Some things need to be revisited perhaps, but to say after 100 years that all of a sudden we don't have the knowledge to make these things safe enough for ovals is absolutely absurd."
Foyt said his two worst accidents occurred on road courses at Riverside, Calif., and Elkhart Lake, Wis., while traveling well below the 225-plus mph speeds he reached at Indy.
"I don't care if it's a stock car or a local modified, it's a dangerous game, and you are going to lose some of your fellow friends," Foyt said. "I've lost a lot of them, and it hurts. You hate to see that, but we went through a pretty good spell that nobody really has been hurt, because everyone's worked on safety, safety, safety. Some of the races that people have gotten killed in are not when you run (at) high speeds.
"Indy cars are probably 1,000% safer than when I drove them. You always hope you can make them 100% safe where no one gets hurt or killed, but I don't care what (car) you're in, you're going to have these fatalities, and you hate it because it hurts everybody. (Sunday) was a tragedy. I knew Wheldon; he was a super kid. But this isn’t going to be last time things like this happen."
Said Andretti: "I wish we could be 100% insulated from everything, but we're not. You've got to look at how far we've come and how it's been built so vigorously We have our own safety teams with the same people, the same doctors right there. Those are things we used to dream about 20 years ago. I consider driving on a racetrack a lot safer than going to the racetrack or coming home from it. As tragic as all of this is, we have to dissect it. You examine every situation and react accordingly. If some changes need to be made, you make them. Fortunately, we don't have to say we have to build a new car. It's already being addressed with the new 2012 car. We're fortunate about that." USA Today