For A.J. Foyt, turning 80 this Friday may be one of his greatest accomplishments in a lifetime defined by record-setting milestones.
The only man to win the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of LeMans and the Daytona 500 continues to recover from serious complications sustained following his triple bypass heart surgery November 12, 2014.
Foyt was discharged from a Houston hospital December 2nd but was readmitted a week later. He spent an additional two weeks in the hospital to have several procedures performed related to post-operative complications. He is expected to make a full recovery.
"I've had a lot of accidents and have always recovered pretty fast," said Foyt, who has battled back from multiple injuries throughout his illustrious career. "But this is altogether different from an accident because it's a health problem. All during my career I never had any health problems so I don't think I realized how lucky you are when you're healthy. This last deal really caught me off guard and I think I've got it whipped now but it's going to take time. My doctors told me it wasn't something I'd recover from real quick. I didn't want to accept that – and still don't – but it's taking me a lot longer than I thought. I'm not one of those guys that can just lay around and take it easy, but that's exactly what I've got to do now. It's driving me nuts."
The Texan has been spending most of his time at his Houston home but is hoping to make a visit to his ABC Supply Racing team's race shop soon – perhaps on January 16th to briefly celebrate his 80th. "I'm looking forward to being back with the guys – and I'm pretty sure my wife Lucy is looking forward to that too. She has been a real trooper through all of this."
The team's Waller headquarters– located about 40 minutes northwest of Houston – is bustling as the team is in the midst of an expansion to two fulltime entries in the Verizon IndyCar Series this season. Veteran driver Takuma Sato will be joined by Jack Hawksworth, the 23-year-old British driver who won the 2014 Tony Renna Rising Star Award in his rookie year of IndyCar competition.
"Larry and I talk every day to discuss the second team," said Foyt of his youngest son. "I have to leave all of the hiring up to him but he'd ask my opinion and a few I said no to and a few yes. He analyzed it all and we agreed on everything. I think he's done a great job, with it being the first time he's had to put everything together. He stepped up to the plate big time. I felt like he could do it, but I didn't know if he really wanted it, but he's done a helluva a job."
Team Director Larry Foyt recently hired veteran team manager Mitch Davis to oversee the second car, which will be engineered by Raul Prados, who is in his fourth year with AJ Foyt Racing. Prados was named chief engineer when the team announced its plans to expand October 29. Prados served as the chief engineer of the team's second entry in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indy 500 with driver Martin Plowman last May.
"Mitch has been a great addition to the team," said Foyt. "He's got the right attitude and really wants to win, which is probably why he and Dad have always gotten along so well. Mitch has helped me track down some excellent people, and I'm really impressed with the guys who have made the commitment to our ABC Supply team. With the entire 14 team returning, and the addition of some great people on the 41 car, my optimism is high for great results. I can't wait to get to our first test in February and watch it all come together on track."
The senior Foyt is looking forward to being back on the pit stand although the exact timing of that moment is still up in the air.
"I won't be able to go to Brazil because I won't be healed up but my hope is to make some of the races before Indy," Indy's first four-time winner revealed. "My big goal is to be healthy for the Indianapolis 500. That's what made me and that's what I love – the Indy 500. I will be there come hell or high water."
He is also looking forward to having two cars on track this season which he said was a necessary adjustment to remain competitive in the series.
"Let's face it, it's hard to compete with these guys that are running three or four cars – we had to expand to a two car team. When those teams go out and practice they get three or four times the information back compared to our one. I think you can do a great job with two cars and it's something we had to step up to do to be competitive. I believe we have two drivers who are very competitive, and they can help each other. We've got a young gun and a boy that's seasoned. I think the veteran can help the young gun and the young gun can help the older guy, and make him hustle harder (laughs)."
The season kicks off March 8 with the Brasilia Indy 300 at 3.403-mile Autodromo Internacional Nelson Piquet course in BrasÃƒÂlia, the capital of Brazil. The first race in the U.S. will be the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29.
Although Foyt had to make an unscheduled pit stop en route to his 80th birthday, he is back in the race and charging to the front.