Foyt, A(nthony) J(oseph), Jr.

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FOYT, A(nthony) J(oseph), Jr.

(b. 16 January 1935 in Houston, Texas), professional race car driver who between 1957 and 1992 won seven United States Auto Club championships, four Indianapolis 500 races, and France's premier race, the Twenty-four Hours of Le Mans.

Foyt was one of three children born to Anthony "Tony" Joseph Foyt, Sr., a mechanic, garage owner, and well-known builder of racing engines, and Elizabeth (Emma Evelyn) Monk, a homemaker. Unbelievably, Foyt climbed behind the wheel at the tender age of three, driving a gas-powered miniature racer that his father built for him. By age eleven he was racing midget cars. He dropped out of high school in the eleventh grade to work as a mechanic in his father's garage, the Burton and Foyt Garage. While he was working in the family's shop, Foyt learned lessons that served him well in his later career. Not only was he given the opportunity to pursue his love of racing, but he also gained valuable firsthand knowledge of the inner workings of automobiles, especially the engines. By 1953 he was a well known figure on the midget and stock car circuits. During his early career on dirt tracks, Foyt's friends gave him the moniker "Fancy Pants" because he commonly wore freshly laundered and starched white pants, silk shirts, and cowboy boots.

Foyt married Lucy Zarr in 1955; they had two sons and one daughter. Two years after his marriage, Foyt began racing professionally.

Foyt is best remembered for his appearances at the Indianapolis 500, qualifying at Indy thirty-five consecutive times between 1958 and 1992. During his career at Indianapolis, he electrified racing fans with his driving abilities, but one of his most memorable moments at America's most prominent race was in 1961. From the beginning, this race proved sensational. Jim Hurtubise, a young driver participating in his first race at the sacred Brickyard, led the field for the first thirty-five laps until engine trouble forced him out of the race. Once Hurtubise was out of the race, Rufus Parnell "Parnelli" Jones took the lead position. Jones maintained his lead for the first seventy-five miles despite being struck in the forehead by loose debris left on the track from an earlier wreck. Even though Jones could barely see through his blood-drenched goggles, it was engine trouble that forced him from the race.

The new frontrunner was now Eddie Sachs, and following close behind him was Foyt, pushing the new leader for first place. As the race unfolded, the two men swapped the lead position ten times, Sachs outrunning Foyt in the straightaways and Foyt catching him in the turns. With thirty miles left to go in the race, both men made what they calculated to be their final pit stop. Both pit crews serviced their respective cars and had their drivers back on the track in record time. Foyt immediately noticed his car was running unusually fast. He was able to pass Sachs and built a measurable lead over him.

Just as Foyt began to visualize his first victory at Indy, a member of his racing team flashed him a sign that read "Fuel Low." During his last stop, an undetected clogged fuel line had prevented his crew from refueling his car with enough gas to finish the race. This had in essence made the car lighter, thus accounting for the car's ability to run faster than before. All seemed lost. Another pit stop meant Sachs would win the race, but if Foyt ran out of gas he would lose the race for sure. Cussing his crew, Foyt pulled into the pit area and refueled. But he did not give up, a character trait that served him well throughout his career. Back on the track, the frustrated Foyt pushed his car harder than before, but Sachs maintained his lead.

However, Foyt's persistence paid off. With five laps left in the race, Sachs began to experience tire trouble. It seemed evident that if Sachs continued to push his car, the result would be a crash-causing blowout. Sachs was forced to pull into the pit area and change his worn tires. Foyt roared into the lead for the final time, winning his first Indianapolis 500. That same year, he won eighteen more United States Auto Club—sponsored races and his second consecutive national championship.

Foyt was now well on his way to becoming a racing legend. He won a third national championship in 1963, winning three races and not finishing lower than eighth in any event. The next year, he exceeded his prior accomplishments by winning the Indy 500 for a second time, winning the Daytona Firecracker 400 stock car race, breaking the record for most career wins in an Indy car, and winning his fourth USAC National championship. Foyt won his fifth national championship in 1967. He also won his third Indianapolis 500, finishing more than two laps ahead of the second-place driver, Al Unser, Sr. Just over one week after his victory at the Indianapolis 500, Foyt and fellow team member Dan Gurney took first at France's premier race, the Twenty-four Hours of Le Mans. Foyt became the first driver to win both the Indy 500 and the Le Mans. In 1972 he won the Daytona 500, the most important race sponsored by the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing.

In the 1970s Foyt remained at the top of his profession. In 1975 and again in 1979 he won his sixth and seventh USAC national championships. He won the Indy 500 for the fourth time in 1977. In the 1980s Foyt was still competitive, and his biggest win of the decade came in 1985, when he won the Twelve Hours of Sebring, America's oldest endurance race. The 1990s brought an end to Foyt's career behind the wheel. He qualified for the Indy 500 again in 1991 and 1992. He showed up at Indianapolis in 1993, but shocked the crowd on the first day of qualifying by announcing his retirement. He raced in one more professional race following his retirement. In 1994 he drove in the first NASCAR event held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Brickyard 400, but failed to win.

Foyt runs A. J. Foyt Enterprises, a race car shop that has been based in Houston since 1965, and he also serves on the board of directors of Riverway Bank and Service Corporation International, one of the nation's largest funeral chains. Foyt has remained active in the sport that he loves by fielding racing teams and sponsoring promising young drivers.

Foyt will forever remain a legend in the world of auto racing. No one has come close to matching his career of winning sixty-seven Indy car events and seven USAC season championships. Also, he remains the only driver to have won the Indy 500, NASCAR's Daytona 500, and the Twenty-four Hours of Le Mans. From day one, Foyt was a man of conviction, believing in the American dream and in himself as well. It was only fitting that he was inducted into the Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 1989.

Foyt and William Neely, a sports writer, chronicle most of Foyt's racing career in A. J.: My Life as America ' s Greatest Race Car Driver (1983). This work gives insight into Foyt's perspective and experience both on and off the race track. Bill Libby, Foyt (1974), is a biographical work that offers a balanced view of Foyt's early career. For a general history of the first seventy-five years of the Indianapolis 500 race, see Rich Taylor, Indy: Seventy-Five Years of Auto Racing's Greatest Spectacle (1991). Numerous magazine and newspaper articles cover Foyt's life and professional career. Among the more informative are John McGill, "Last Tango at Indy?," Sporting News 211 (27 May 1991): 39–40; William Nack, "Twilight of a Titan," Sports Illustrated (30 Sept. 1991); Malcolm Moran, "Defying the Odds at Indy," New York Times (25 May 1986); and Ken Denlinger, "Foyt Faces New Turns at Indy 500; 58-Year-Old Racing Legend No Longer Behind the Wheel," Washington Post (27 May 1993).

Kenneth Wayne Howell