AJ Foyt waxes poetic about good ‘ol days of IndyCar

AJ Foyt

A.J. Foyt is back at the Indianapolis 500 this weekend with Takuma Sato behind the wheel and perhaps his best chance to win the fabled race as an owner in more than a decade.

Still, he can't help but reminisce about the good old days.

The four-time champion was asked Thursday whether there will ever be a time when there's true innovation in the IndyCar Series—where there are multiple chassis builders, for example, like there was before Dallara became the sole provider in 2006.

Companies such as Lola and Reynard are just a memory at the Brickyard.

"Dallara does a great job, and I just as soon keep working with them," Foyt said, before explaining that so many of the old-school mechanics who put together cars when he was behind the wheel have either retired or passed away, and technology has taken over the game.

The same story unfolded when it came to engines, where Honda spent several years as the sole engine provider. But last year, Chevrolet made a return after a seven-year hiatus, and was been the dominant power plant in all those Dallaras so far this May.

"Some of the old mechanics that had to build motors, you have more what I call 'R and R'—remove and replace mechanics," Foyt said. "All your great, great mechanics that used to do it the hard way have passed on. It's a shame."

In some ways, the result has been a more homogeneous product on the track, not unlike what NASCAR experienced over the past few years. The Sprint Cup series has gone back to cars that more closely resemble the manufacturers, creating a sort of brand identity once again.

"I don't think you'd ever see those days ever come back," Foyt said of the IndyCar Series. "It'd be nice, but I don't think you ever will."

A.J. Foyt, Larry Foyt
Thursday, May 23, 2013

Larry Foyt

THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Foyt Racing, Larry and A.J., a four-time winner here, clearly legendary status, has also won as an owner. Before this started, Ed looked at me and said, It's really something because at the moment Foyt Racing is back on top.

Larry, that has to feel good for you?

LARRY FOYT: For sure. It's been a long road coming. It does feel great. The whole team is working well together. Just to finally get that win, get that result, we knew we were building something special. We've been fast, but to get the result is really something we're happy about.

THE MODERATOR: A.J., you weren't there when Takuma got the victory, but that had to be great.

A.J. FOYT: That's true. I'm glad I wasn't there because they're the ones really been working hard. I've been up and down like a yo-yo. I've been on top, I've been zero-zero. It's great to see it's all been pulled together.

My chief mechanic, been with me for 45 years, out of the hospital, I wasn't supposed to drive for two weeks. I said, 'Doc, I can't drive a car.' A.J., if you had to put the brake on something, you're going to be back here in a lot worse shape. I said, 'Doc, I'm going to gamble.'

Somebody called Jack (Starne) by the time I walked in. They wanted to know what we changed. That's what he told me. All we did, we have drivers now, not riders. I said, 'Jack, what the hell you talking about?' I said, A guy told me he was wanting to know what we changed.

I thought that was pretty comical. He was with me through all my years.


Q: A.J., talking about riders versus drivers. This guy that you have, did y'all hire him specifically because his is so aggressive and goes for the wins? Like last year's race, he was going for the win. Is that what attracted y'all to him most?

A.J. FOYT: I think we knew he was a good race driver. He did a lot of testing for Honda way back yonder on road courses. Was kind of looking for a guy that could play both parts, ovals and road courses.

I had Larry doing most of the talking. We got a 10th-place car, let's run 10th. If it's a fifth-place car, run fifth. There's going to be days you're going to be off.

Just like over in Brazil, I talked to Larry a couple times. I said, 'What's going on?' He said: 'Dad, we're just struggling. We can't get the combination, we're struggling.' I said, 'OK, do the best you can.'

After the race, I said: 'Why in the hell didn't y'all change tires? You probably run laps longer than anybody. I can't stand it, the tires are so loose, I'm sliding all over.' I'm watching on TV, they said how many laps it was. Holy crap, he still was fighting for the lead.

Larry told me, he said, 'Well, dad, the first deal, they made some changes before the race, we ran a lot faster.' He said, 'We got up there, and we didn't want to lose track position. That's the reason they short-fueled him.' I said, 'That was a good decision.'

We were talking they have to use the brake so hard, he's pretty much out of front-wheel brakes. Last time he went this in the corner, he only had two real brakes. I was watching how he slid.

It's lucky he run as good as he did. But I thought he run a hell of a race. Even though he run second, he didn't give up till the checkered went out.

Q: Many years ago you had two teams, IndyCar and you were involved in NASCAR. Is this a short-term or long-term option for you, setting up a NASCAR team for you?

A.J. FOYT: Well, no, no. I feel to be successful in any team, you almost have to live with it. We tried that with Conseco. You always have people changing. You think you got good people. It's just too much.

It's like your business. You can have a good business, but you almost have to be there every day to make sure it keeps running the way you want it to run. If not, you have one guy that sloughs off, another guy sloughs off.

I just feel with any kind of racing team, you almost have to be there all the time. It's like Hendrick Racing, Richard Childress, they're there all the time. The few races the Wood Brothers run, you have to be there all the time. You can't jump back and forth.

A driver is different, but I'm talking about a team owner.

Q: A.J., we have a couple of active three-time Indy 500 winners. Is it inevitable there's going to be another guy joining that four-time club?

A.J. FOYT: You know the way I look at that? It wouldn't surprise to see me a six, seven, eight-time winner with all the equipment you have. You take our cars, back when we won it four times, our mechanics came back here, pulled the motors apart. Carburetion Day, we went out and put the motors on, then we tried to run 500 miles.

It wouldn't surprise me. Records are made to be broken. That's what they're there for. Like I said, with the equipment they have today, if a guy doesn't win it six, seven times, it's because he wasn't trying.

Q: Franchitti and Castroneves, what do they have in common with you guys?

A.J. FOYT: I'd like to see one of them drive a roadster and win a race, then we'll see what we have in common. I doubt if they'd make five laps (laughter).

They're good racecar drivers with the equipment they're in. They need to get in a roadster with cement tires and see how good they stick in a corner (laughter).

Q: Another piece of this puzzle that a lot of people have been talking about is Larry's management of the team, sort of bringing a fresh approach or whatever. Could both of y'all talk about the way Larry does things differently, the new approach he's brought? Is there differences?

LARRY FOYT: Good cop, bad cop, is that what it is (laughter)?

No, actually, believe it or not, I hardly make a decision that we don't go over. Our working relationship has really been awesome. When I first came in, when he made the announcement that I was going to be team director, I didn't want to just jump in and be the boss' kid, come in and change everything. I really had to get back into IndyCar mentality. I wanted to analyze the team, see what we were working with.

As I've learned over the years, every year he's given me a little bit more leeway to do things the way I've wanted. I think we've become a more engineering-based team, kind of what modern IndyCar racing is. It has changed a lot over the years.

I love the way we work together. Like I said, there's hardly a decision that him and I don't go over.

A.J. FOYT: And he's younger (laughter). He can tolerate more of that crap than I can nowadays. I think some of y'all that have been through the years feel the same way.

Q: Larry, when you hired Sato, he had a few crashes over the previous several years. What was the talk with him about that?

LARRY FOYT: Well, dad always told me that it's a lot easier to calm a hard charger down than prod a guy that doesn't want to charge. I think the obvious thing is, if you keep wrecking A.J.'s racecars, you have to tell him, it's a pretty calming effect on you (laughter).

No, really, Takuma, of course everyone had seen that, that was kind of his reputation. Once you get to know him, really working with him this year, that's not the case at all.

I think he's in a good place right now. It's a super fit with our team, the way he gets along with A.J., with Don Halliday. I think he feels like the team is really behind him. He doesn't have to go out there and overextend himself.

Our cars are set up in the ballpark. We definitely have fast racecars right now, a good group putting them together. It's been a good fit, and he doesn't have to go out there and overextend himself.

A.J. FOYT: Sato has very, very good feedback, very good feedback. That helps the engineers a lot. When we were a one-car team, couple engineers with us, you have a four-car team, say, they got four engineers, four drivers, four times as much feedback.

But he does give you good feedback. Him and the engineers work very close. I think that's really been successful for us.

Q: A.J., did you ever think that there would be four women racing in this greatest spectacle in racing? When will a woman win the '500?'

A.J. FOYT: Whenever she gets very lucky. I've always said to win this race, everything has got to fall your way. I don't care who you are, if you're A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones. If it's not your day, it's not your day. In '75, '76, all I had to do was stay out of accidents. Damn near blew it in '77. Everything has to go your way.

Who would have thought Franchitti last year would have come up and win the race? You know what I'm talking about?

This race is a special race, a hard race to win. It's the greatest race, as far as I'm concerned, in the world. But everything has to fall your way. Just like when we was in California, there was nobody could beat our car. The pit stops were perfect, he was perfect, the car was perfect. When you got something like that, normally you don't win. Just like my wife said, 'God, looks like he's going to win, five laps.' I said, 'On that track, five laps is still a long ways to go.' I've run that track out there.

Q: Looking back at last year, the attempt that Sato made on the last lap, is there anything he should have done differently? Have you talked about if you're in the same situation, maybe you want to think about doing something else?

A.J. FOYT: Go ahead, Larry, you're younger than me.

LARRY FOYT: I think Takuma would tell you he would have done things a little bit differently. I don't think when he made his move, he just would have maybe not given Dario quite as much room and would have tried to protect himself a little bit.

Takuma, as we talked about, he's a thinking driver. He knew he had a lot of understeer in his car in Turn 3. That wasn't the place he was going to be able to make the move. He had to go for it right then. We like that about him.

Q: A.J., there are 11 American drivers in the field this year, American driver on the pole. Is there significance to that? Do you think it's symbolic of a resurgence of American drivers in this race and in the series itself? Are we making too much of that?

A.J. FOYT: Well, I think what made Indy as great as it was before, 90 percent of the drivers were American drivers. It's like when I came up, Parnelli, Jim Hurtubise, people followed our careers. We run midgets, sprints, we were good enough to come down to Indianapolis. A lot of drivers might fly in here, win the race, go on. People don't even know who they are.

I think that's the same way with NASCAR now. People used to follow Junior Johnson, Cale Yarborough, they used to follow them through all the little races. To a sense, that's hurt the racing with NASCAR, IRL, whatever. You don't have the fan base that has your heroes that you followed from the day you crawled, the day you walked, then you started running. I think that's hurt the fan base a little bit.

You know as well as I do, you see people come in for the big race, same as Daytona, they see that, that's the last time you see them. People don't know who they want to pull for. Your fan base is what makes a big crowd. Like you said, people want Parnelli, Hurtubise, run midgets, sprints, graduate. When you come to Indianapolis, they always follow them here.

I think that's where everybody builds a big fan base. Our hero is going to Indianapolis, and we want to follow him.

Q: A.J., talking about AJ Allmendinger, who was apparently named after you, what advice do you give to a driver like that?

A.J. FOYT: Well, AJ Allmendinger is a very good race driver. He's had quite a bit of experience. He ran CART. I met his daddy the other day. I said, 'Why did you handicap that kid putting A.J. on him?' His dad was a super guy.

I was supposed to present him the trophy at Daytona, but I was in the hospital that year. I think he's a great race driver. Like I said, he's got a lot more experience in Indy cars than a lot of the other rookies do, on ovals and that.

Q: To get this as basic as possible, how long has it been since you've come here and gone into Sunday feeling like you had as much chance to win this race as you look like you do now? What does it feel like to actually go in thinking your team could win this race?

A.J. FOYT: Well, you know, I know it sounds silly, but every year, like last year, we had a good car. He come from 29th to third when the accident happened. Come in the pits, wiped us all out in the pits. Anyway, Mike (Conway) ran a great race last year.

I guess the last time I really felt we could win this race was with Kenny Brack, hell of a race driver, won the championship with him. I think we're back on that playing field right now. I'd have to say '99 to answer your question.

Q: Are the juices flowing in you more in recent years? Do you come out here every day with a little more excitement than you have in recent years?

A.J. FOYT: I did slow down till they put me on Plavix and thinned my blood, then it started speeding up again (laughter).

No, I still enjoy it a lot or I wouldn't be here. I'm happy for my son Larry and that. Like I say, '98, if you remember, the damn computer cost us this damn race. I think y'all saw that (laughter). Arguing with me on the other team, got plenty of fuel. I said, 'Why in the hell did it quit?'

LARRY FOYT: We have to insure 'em now.

Q: Cameras are going to be on you plenty Sunday.

A.J. FOYT: They got so many damn ones around, I'm drunk looking at them.

Q: A.J., looking in the past, you had much success here with your own chassis. Now you run with the Dallara. I think anything is possible in motor racing. When the situation will come up again, this championship is open for different chassis again, will you ever plan to build your own chassis again?

A.J. FOYT: I'll tell you what, it costs so much to do that anymore, I'm too damn old. Larry wouldn't have the experience to do that. Most of the people I worked with through the years have all passed on.

I know there's some other people out there that are great. But Dallara does a great job. I'd just as soon keep working with him. You don't have the quality of people working like you used to have on the racecars. Like I say, right now, I hate to say it this way, some of the old mechanics that had to rebuild the motors, rebuild all parts, suspension, you have more R&R, remove and replace mechanics. You got some good mechanics, don't get me wrong. But if you took the average one, make a new lower control arm, upright or something like that, 90 percent of them would be lost.

All your great, great mechanics that used to do it the hard way, most of them has passed on. It's a shame because you really used to have some quality people.

You go look at your cars in the museum, the old cars, look at the craftsmanship. You still have nice craftsmanship today. But back then, they didn't have all the molds. They was all handmade.

I take my hat off to the older people. I put myself in that category now.

Like before, when you wanted a different paint scheme, it would take you a couple days drawing it up. Right now I can get him on the computer in five minutes and see whatever paint scheme I want.

It's made it a lot different today. Same with the cars you drive now. You don't have to change spark plugs instead of the old mechanic changing points and condensers, all that, they don't do that.

I don't think you'll see them days ever come back. It would be nice, but I don't think you will.

Q: A.J., how are you feeling? And, Larry, what kind of pride did you have in calling after the success you've had over the first four races?

LARRY FOYT: It was really bittersweet at Long Beach because we all wanted him to be there. I think you saw the pure emotion of our whole team. With us being a smaller team, we put in a lot of hours. We really have a dedicated group of guys that give the extra effort and focus on the details. For it all to come together, we were super happy.

Everybody kind of looked around, 'Where is A.J.?' It's just not right without him here.

It was great to hear him say he was proud. When he told us he was proud of us, it meant a lot. I hated he wasn't in Victory Lane with us. So now I think we can make up for that on Sunday because now we got him back. This would be a good one to do that together.

A.J. FOYT: To answer that, I guess some of these scars and bones through the years have finally given up on the old racecars.

I'm still enthused, and I'm glad for them. You just slow down when you get older. I'm sure some of y'all have slowed down yourselves. I'm not telling you something you know. If you fall down now, if you fell down when you were 20, you bounce up bigger. Last year they took my knee out three times. Goddamn, Doc, you're supposed to be our friend. I'd hate to be your enemy. I had that staph infection. They put that PIC line in me. Got over that, that back deal come up. That's due to some of the racing injuries through the years that's developed.

Like I said, I wasn't supposed to live this long. I don't know if that's good or bad. I got mixed emotions. Some said I wouldn't live to be 22. I guess I made liars out of them, but I'm paying for it now.

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