Foyt, A. J.
A. J. Foyt
American race car driver
A. J. Foyt Jr., is unique in the world of auto racing. While others have matched some of his most impressive records, such as his four Indianapolis 500 victories, nobody can compete with the astonishing longevity and variety of his racing career. Foyt's professional career spanned four decades, from the 1950s to the 1990s, which is an accomplishment in of itself in auto racing. However, the fact that he remained competitive during this entire time, despite a number of debilitating injuries, has made Foyt's career even more outstanding. In addition, while most auto racers specialize in driving a certain type of car or racing on a certain type of terrain, Foyt has raced in—and won—premier auto-racing events in radically different cars on a variety of road and track courses around the world. For these reasons, in 1999, Supertex, as he is known to his legions of fans, was named by the Associated Press, along with Mario Andretti , as the Driver of the Century.
Born to Drive
Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr. was born January 16, 1935, in Houston, Texas. Foyt's father, Tony, a mechanic and auto racer himself, owned Burt and Foyt Garage, which specialized in race cars. Foyt quickly became interested in the sport. When he was three years old, Tony built him a small open-wheel racecar to drive around their backyard. When he was five, Tony built him a midget-type racer and arranged a three-lap duel between Foyt and Doc Cossey, a local adult racer, at the Houston Speed Bowl. Foyt won the duel, and decided that he wanted to race cars for the rest of his life.
Foyt adored his father and strove to earn his approval. Yet, no matter how hard Foyt tried or how good he became in a race car, Tony never praised his son, which made Foyt work even harder. While Foyt adored his father, he also feared him. Tony was a tough man with a wild temper, which Foyt experienced on several occasions,
such as when he was eleven, and he and some friends stole his father's midget racecar off of its trailer. They drove it around the yard until the engine burst into flames. While this was bad, the highest offense in Tony's eyes was lying. When Foyt was sixteen, he and some friends went hot-rodding through Houston in his 1950 Ford, until the police saw them and chased them. Foyt and his friends ditched the car, then Foyt lied to his father, saying that it had been stolen. When Tony found out the truth from the police, he imposed the strongest punishment he could think of by taking away Foyt's car for a year. Lessons like these helped Foyt to become an honest, loyal person, both on and off the track.
However, it was his tough-as-nails attitude and flat-out driving style that quickly distinguished Foyt in his races. After leaving high school during his junior year to pursue racing full-time, he quickly became the best-known driver in Texas. This was as much for his dressing style as his racing prowess. For every race, Foyt would wear silk shirts and fancy white pants, which earned him the nickname, "Fancy Pants." When he was twenty, Foyt married Lucy Zarr, and the two began attending the Indianapolis 500 as spectators. In 1957, Foyt joined the United States Auto Club (USAC) racing circuit.
The Move to Indy Cars
The same year, Foyt qualified for his first Indy car race. In 1958, he made his debut at the Indianapolis 500, where he finished 16th. The 1958 Indianapolis 500 was a dangerous event, which started out with a fourteen-car pileup and ended with a death and eight cars knocked out of commission. Foyt barely escaped injury himself, sliding backwards almost a thousand feet on an oil slick and avoiding a near crash. For Foyt, racing Indy cars, especially at Indianapolis—the premier auto-racing venue at the time—was a dream come true.
The next two decades intensified that dream, and not just in Indy cars. Success came quickly for Foyt, who dominated the Indy car circuit. In 1960, Foyt won his first Indy car race, then went on to win three more races that season as well as the national Indy car championship. In 1961, at twenty-six, Foyt won his first Indianapolis 500, setting a new average-speed record for the race in the process. He also won his second national Indy car championship and won a record twenty United States Auto Club (USAC) races during the year. As a testament to his versatility, these races included midget cars, sprint cars, and Indy cars. The next year, he won his first USAC stock car race, proving that he could drive all of the major varieties of racecars. In 1963 and 1964, he won his third and fourth national Indy car championships. In the latter year, he also won his second Indianapolis 500, once again breaking the race record for average speed. In addition, in the 1964 season, he won a record ten races, out of only thirteen starts.
In 1965, Foyt won a record ten pole positions, including the pole at the Indianapolis 500. In 1967, he repeated his impressive performance from 1964, once again winning the Indianapolis with a record average speed, and once again winning the national Indy car championship. By this point, Foyt had won countless races and championships in Indy cars, stock cars, midget cars, and sprint cars. Foyt seemed truly unstoppable when it came to racing, and it was at this point that he extended his dominance outside of America. In 1967, Foyt and fellow American racer Dan Gurney teamed up to race in France's 24 Hours of Le Mans, an endurance road race that is widely considered by Europeans to be their version of the Indianapolis 500. Foyt and Gurney won the event, becoming the first Americans to do so, and in the process they beat the track record by the largest margin in Le Mans history.
The next year, Foyt continued his pattern of scoring championship victories in radically different racing events, by winning his first USAC stock car championship. In 1972, he won the crown jewel of stock car racing, the Daytona 500. The same year, he also won the USAC dirt car championship. In the late 1970s, now in his early forties, Foyt continued to score victories. In 1975, he won his sixth national Indy car championship. In 1977, he won his record fourth Indianapolis 500. In 1978, he won the USAC stock car championship. In 1979, he won his record seventh national Indy car championship. He also became the first driver to win USAC's national Indy car and stock car championships in the same season.
|1935||Born January 16 in Houston, Texas|
|1938||Father builds him a small race car to drive around the backyard|
|1955||Marries Lucy Zarr|
|1957||Wins first USAC (United States Auto Club) midget race|
|1958||Finishes 16th in his first Indianapolis 500|
|1959||Wins first USAC sprint car race|
|1960||Wins first Indy car race at the Duquoin 100|
|1962||Wins first USAC stock car race|
|1964||Wins first NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) race|
|1965||Breaks his back and foot during the Riverside Motor Trend 500 NASCAR race and is presumed dead by medics who arrive on the scene|
|1965||Ten weeks later, he wins the pole at a Phoenix Indy car event|
|1966||Sustains severe burns in an Indy car during practice|
|1972||Sustains burns and a broken leg in a dirt car race in Duquoin, Illinois|
|1981||Fractures right arm at Michigan 500|
|1981||Mother dies of heart failure on the night that Foyt qualifies for Indianapolis 500|
|1983||Father dies of cancer on the night that Foyt qualifies for Indianapolis 500|
|1983||Breaks two vertebrae during practice; nevertheless, he wins the Paul Revere 250 sports car race the same night|
|1988||Fined $5,000 and suspended from the NASCAR circuit for six months after he nearly hits several race officials with his car at the Winston 500|
|1990||Sustains serious leg injuries in Indy car race in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin|
|1992||Races in last Indy car race at the Indianapolis 500|
|1993||Announces his retirement from Indy car racing shortly before he is scheduled to qualify for the Indianapolis 500|
|1994||Competes in his last NASCAR Winston Cup race at the Brickyard 400|
|1996||As a team owner, wins first Indy Racing League title with driver Scott Sharp|
|1998||As a team owner, wins second Indy Racing League title with driver Kenny Brack|
|1999||As a team owner, wins Indianapolis 500 with driver Kenny Brack|
While many men in their mid-forties start slowing down, Foyt sped up. In 1981, Foyt won the Pocono 500. This victory was his record ninth victory in 500-mile Indy car races. While Foyt continued to race Indy cars for another twelve years, the 1981 Pocono 500 was the last Indy car victory in his career. However, the same was not true in other areas of his racing. In 1983, Foyt won the 24 Hours of Daytona, a tough endurance race for anybody, but especially for a man pushing fifty. As if to prove that this wasn't a fluke, Foyt won the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1985, two years later. From this point on, Foyt did not win any more races, although he participated in several, and remained competitive against racers half his age. In 1992, he set his last record when he qualified for his 35th consecutive Indianapolis 500. This was also his last Indy car race before he announced his retirement shortly before the 1993 Indianapolis 500. Foyt's retirement did not spell the end of racing for the Foyts, however. Foyt gained a passion for the sport through his father, Tony. Likewise, Foyt has passed the auto-racing bug down to other members of his family, including his grandson, A. J. Foyt IV, who is one of the new sensations in auto racing.
No Pain, No Gain
While Foyt racked up impressive records and statistics in his long racing career, he also racked up several injuries, some of which were life-threatening. In a sport as dangerous as auto racing, injuries are common. What is uncommon is the fact that Foyt repeatedly bounced back from injuries that might convince other racers to pack it in. His first serious injury came in 1965 during a NASCAR race in Riverside, California. His brakes failed, and he tried to avoid crashing into Junior Johnson and Marvin Panch, two racers who were in front of him. In the process of avoiding this crash, Foyt flipped his car down an embankment, breaking his back and fracturing his heel in the process. By the time the medics, a fellow racer, and a team owner descended the 25-foot embankment and reached Foyt's car, Foyt was not breathing, his skin was blue, and they assumed he was dead. However after noticing some slight movement, and scooping the mud out of Foyt's mouth, he was able to breathe again and they took him to the hospital.
Foyt has been severely burned on several occasions, as in 1972, during a dirt-car race in DuQuoin, Illinois, when he was set on fire. During a pit stop, the fuel hose broke lose and sprayed two gallons of alcohol-nitro mixture onto Foyt's head. Assuming that it would evaporate, Foyt started to drive out of the pits. Unfortunately, one of his car's side-mounted exhaust pipes backfired, setting Foyt's head ablaze. In his panic, he jumped out of the car, intending to jump into a lake in the infield. However, the car was still moving, and the left rear tire rolled over his leg, breaking his leg and ankle. Still on fire, Foyt attempted to hobble to the infield, while his father chased after him, eventually catching up to him and spraying him with a fire extinguisher.
Awards and Accomplishments
|Foyt won a career record seven Indy car national championships (1960-61, 1963-64, 1967, 1975, and 1979).|
|Foyt won a career record sixty-seven Indy car races.|
|Foyt won a career record nine 500-mile races (the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, 1964, 1967, and 1977; the Pocono 500 in 1973, 1975, 1979, and 1981; and the California 500 in 1975).|
|Foyt is the only driver who has won the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.|
|Foyt is the only driver who has won the Indianapolis 500 in both a front-engine and a rear-engine race car.|
|Foyt's USAC career record for total victories is 158. He is the only driver who has won twenty or more victories in USAC's four major categories: Indy cars, stock cars, sprint cars, and midget cars.|
|1960-61, 1963-64, 1967, 1975, 1979||National Indy car championship|
|1961||Wins Indianapolis 500 race at an average speed of 139.130 mph, a new race record|
|1961||Wins record twenty USAC (United States Auto Club) races in one year|
|1964||Wins Indianapolis 500 at an average speed of 147.350, a new race record|
|1964||Wins a record ten Indy car season victories (out of thirteen starts)|
|1965||Wins a record ten pole positions in Indy cars this season, including the Indianapolis 500|
|1967||Wins Indianapolis 500 at an average speed of 151.207 mph, a new race record|
|1967||Foyt and teammate, Dan Gurney, become the first Americans to win France's 24 Hours of Le Mans race|
|1968, 1978||USAC stock car championship|
|1972||USAC dirt car championship|
|1977||Wins record fourth Indianapolis 500|
|1979||Becomes first driver to win USAC's national Indy car and stock car championships in the same season|
|1981||Wins record ninth victory in 500-mile Indy car races at the Pocono 500|
|1983, 1985||24 Hours of Daytona|
|1985||12 Hours of Sebring|
|1989||Inaugural inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame|
|1991||USAC and Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) reserve the number fourteen for the exclusive use of Foyt as either a driver or team owner, to be retired upon Foyt's retirement from the sport; this is the first time either of the two organizations have retired a racing number|
|1992||Qualifies for record thirty-five consecutive Indianapolis 500 races|
|1993||Wins the American Sportscasters Association Sports Legend Award|
|1999||Foyt named Driver of the Century by the Associated Press (along with Mario Andretti)|
Foyt experienced his most painful injury during an Indy car race in 1990, at the Road America course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Once again, as in the 1965 NASCAR race, Foyt's brakes failed. Since he was going 190 mph and was coming up on a 90-degree turn, Foyt did the only thing he could to avoid a fatal roll—he plowed straight through the wooden wall, sending his car airborne into a dirt embankment. In the process, Foyt broke his left knee, dislocated his left tibia (which shot up his leg, through his knee, and into his thigh muscle), crushed his left heel, dislocated his right heel, and suffered compartment syndrome in both feet. Foyt remained awake as the rescuers tried to unearth him, and he pleaded with them to hit him in the head with a hammer and knock him out so he would not have to feel the excruciating pain. Following these massive injuries, Foyt's peers assumed that he would announce his retirement. However, Foyt surprised everybody by undergoing a grueling physical therapy regimen with the Houston Oilers's strength-and-rehabilitation coach, Steve Watterson, in an attempt to come back and win a fifth Indianapolis 500 race. Although he did not win the Indianapolis 500 in 1991, he did compete in it that year and in 1992, the latter at the seasoned age of fifty-seven.
In this age of slick, specialized auto racers with multimillion-dollar sponsorship deals, Foyt is a throwback to the old days of grit-tough racing. An expert auto mechanic, Foyt knew how far to push a car to its limits, and on some occasions finished the race right before the car was about to break down or blow a tire. During one race, a radius rod—a piece of Foyt's suspension—snapped and started to fall off. Instead of taking himself out of the race as most drivers would do, Foyt grabbed the piece of metal and held it in place with one hand, while using his other hand to finish, and win, the race.
While driving, Foyt's technique was nearly flawless. Fellow racers noted on several occasions that Foyt was cool as ice while he drove. Foyt almost never made mistakes, and would never let his emotions affect his driving as some other racers did and still do. Out of the car, however, it was a different story. While Foyt's racing prowess was legendary, so was his hot temper. When he was angry, he berated his pit crew, officials, reporters, or whoever else got in his way. Sometimes, he would beat on his race car with a hammer if it didn't run the way he wanted it to, regardless of who was watching. During the 1985 Indianapolis 500, Foyt's pit crew misunderstood what needed to be fixed on the car, so Foyt jumped out, irate, and tried to fix the problem himself. Unfortunately, he accidentally set the car on fire and knocked himself out of the race in the process.
Despite his short fuse, Foyt's loyalty to his fellow racers is also legendary. On several occasions, he has gone out of his way to help other racers' careers, such as when he let Al Unser Sr. , a rookie, drive Foyt's backup car in the 1965 Indianapolis 500. Foyt was also famous for helping keep racers safe. His knowledge of what cars could do, coupled with his driving talent and instinct, saved himself and others on many occasions, as he helped to avert potentially fatal accidents during a race. He also helped out during bad accidents, such as in 1968 when he pulled fellow racer, Johnny Rutherford, from Rutherford's burning Indy car.
Most importantly, Foyt was totally committed to his racing throughout his career. Enamored of the sport since he was five years old, Foyt's passion never flagged for more than fifty years, despite the fact that he sustained injuries that could—and have—crippled others. In the end, Foyt's amazing drive helped him to become one of history's most amazing drivers.
Address: A. J. Foyt Enterprises, 6415 Toledo St., Houston, TX, 77008-6226.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY FOYT:
(With Bill Neely) A. J.: My Life As America's Greatest Race Car Driver, Times Books, 1983.
Crash Course in Racing, Videocassette. Hallmark Entertainment, 1989.
Related Biography: Auto Racer A. J. Foyt IV
Anthony Joseph Foyt IV was born on May 25, 1984, in Hockley, Texas. Like his namesake, Foyt IV started driving race cars at an early age. When he was nine, his uncle Jerry (Foyt's son) asked Foyt IV to race a junior dragster. From this first driving experience, Foyt IV moved on to gokarts, where he quickly demonstrated his driving prowess. On the karting circuit, he won races and championships in both the International Karting Federation (IKF) and the World Karting Association (WKA). In 2001, he moved from karting to the Formula Continental Series, where he won the 2001 southwest regional championship and was named Rookie of the Year. Foyt IV also finished third in the point standings of this series, despite the fact that he had to miss three events to fulfill his commitment to working on his grandfather's Indy pit crew.
Foyt IV's pit-crew experiences exposed him to Indy Racing League cars, and also gave him the opportunity to test the cars out at the track. However, it was not long before he was driving his own. Although Foyt initially did not encourage Foyt IV to follow in his footsteps, once he saw his grandson's talent, he expressed his faith in his grandson the best way he knew how—by giving him an Indy car for his 18th birthday. The gift did not go to waste, as Foyt IV used it in 2002 to win the inaugural Infiniti Pro Series championship. The Infiniti Pro Series is an IRL-sanctioned series designed to groom young drivers to race in regular IRL competition. In October 2002, shortly after the conclusion of the series, Foyt IV passed his rookie test for his Indy Racing League license. In 2003, Foyt IV will enter regular IRL competition driving for his grandfather.
Where Is He Now?
Foyt lives in Hockley, Texas. Although he is retired from racing as a driver, Foyt remains active in the sport as a team owner, through A. J. Foyt Enterprises and Team Conseco. While team ownership initially meant Indy cars, in 2000 Foyt formed a NASCAR Winston Cup team, which is based in Mooresville, North Carolina. Foyt's youngest son, Larry, is in charge of this team. Foyt continues to promote the Indy Racing League (IRL), which is attracting an increasing number of drivers away from the rival Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). One of the newest IRL drivers is Foyt's grandson, A. J. Foyt IV. Foyt is also on the board of directors of Riverway Bank and Service Corporation International, the nation's largest funeral service business.
A. J. Foyt: Champion for Life, Videocassette. Cabin Fever Entertainment, 1992.
Engle, Lyle Kenyon. The Incredible A. J. Foyt. New York: Arco, 1977.
Foyt. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1974.
Kupper, Mike. Driven to Win: A. J. Foyt. New York: Raintree/Steck Vaughn, 1975.
Libby, Bill. A. J. Foyt: Racing Champion. New York: Putnam, 1978.
Lincoln Library of Sports Champions. Columbus: Frontier Press Company, 1989.
May, Julian. A. J. Foyt: Championship Auto Racer. New York: Crestwood House, 1975.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, five volumes. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000.
Wilker, Josh. A. J. Foyt (Race Car Legends). New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1996.
(With Bill Neely). A. J.: My Life As America's Greatest Race Car Driver New York: Times Books, 1983.
Handzel, Will. "For a Winner." Hot Rod (October 1994): 104.
Moses, Sam. "Day and Night, A.J. Was Just Right." Sports Illustrated (April 1, 1985): 24.
Nack, William. "Twilight of a Titan." Sports Illustrated (September 30, 1991): 64.
Neely, Bill. "A.J. The Racer As National Institution." Motor Trend (June 1985): 162.
Plummer, William. "A.J.'s Back on Track: Returning from a Crippling Crash, 'the Master' Gears Up for One Last Indy 500." People Weekly (May 13, 1991): 77.
A. J. Foyt: Champion for Life, Videocassette. Greenwich, CT: Cabin Fever Entertainment, 1992.
Crash Course in Racing, Videocassette. New York: Hallmark Entertainment, 1989.
Foyt Racing. http://www.foytracing.com (November 22, 2002).
Motor Sports Hall of Fame. http://www.mshf.com (November 25, 2002).
Schwartz, Larry. "A.J. Foyt: King of the Indy 500." ESPN.com. http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00014199.html (November 22, 2002).
Sketch by Ryan Poquette
Foyt, A. J.
A. J. Foyt
American race-car driver A. J. Foyt (born 1935), the first driver to have won the Indianapolis 500 four times, captivated both race fans and the general public with his many victories over a racing career that spanned three decades.
Joining Mario Andretti as one of the two best race car driver of the twentieth century according to the Associated Press, A. J. Foyt is the only driver to have won the world's top three professional races: the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, and the 24-Hour LeMans. The only driver to win the Indy 500 four times—in 1961, 1964, 1967, and 1977—Foyt had 34 race starts and logged a record 11,785 miles during an Indy career that earned him $2,448,000 in prize money. Among his other racing victories prior to his retirement in 1993, Foyt took the cup at the Daytona 500 in 1972, won the 24-hour endurance race at LeMans, France, in 1968, 1983, and 1985, and drove over 40 U.S. Auto Club stock cars to victory. His versatility took him from formula one and Indy cars to stock cars, to sprint cars, midgets, sports cars, and dirt cars, and in 1987 he set the world's closed-course speed record for an Oldsmobile, pushing an Olds Aerotech to 257 miles per hour.
Anthony Joseph Foyt, Jr., was born in Houston, Texas on January 16, 1935. His father, A. J. Foyt, Senior, was co-owner of Houston's Burt & Foyt Garage; he knew his way around race cars because he specialized in working on them. Shadowing his dad at the family garage as a child, young Foyt not only learned how to build cars; he also knew by the time he was five that he wanted to race them. With the help of his father, who build his son's first midget racers, and family friends, he honed his driving skills, and during high school began driving a midget racer on the Midwestern race car circuit. Dropping out of high school in 11th grade, Foyt got a job at Burt & Foyt's Garage and began to apprentice as a driver. In 1953 18-year-old Foyt Jr.—who became known for his trademark cowboy boots and competitive spirit—won his first midget race on the quarter-mile dirt track at Houston's Playland Park.
King of the Indy 500
Foyt is unique among race car drivers, not the least because of his successes at Indiana's Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Joining the U.S. Auto Club in 1957, he made his Indy Car debut that same year, and qualified for Formula One's Indy 500 in 1958. In that race, held on Memorial Day, Foyt finished the race—the most difficult open-cockpit competition to run on an oval track in the United States—in the number-16 spot after a 12th-place start, running 148 laps and earning $2,849. Two years later Foyt won four races, including his first Indy Car race, and earned his first national driving championship. During his first four years racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Foyt was the youngest driver on the field.
1961 proved to be a banner year for Foyt: it marked his first Indy 500 victory after three previous attempts. Racing at a record 139.13 mph after clocking a qualifying speed of 145.9 mph, he captured a front position after starting in seventh place. Foyt led the race for 71 laps and overcame the setback caused by a late-in-the-race pit stop to take on fuel, barely beating front-runner Eddie Sachs who limped into the pit with a worn tire.
Racing in the Indy 500 became an annual tradition for Foyt, who competed in the Grand Prix event for 35 years in a row, logging 4,909 laps around the two-and-a-half-mile oval track. The first driver to win the race four times, Foyt's winning record has not been beaten, although Al Unser and Rick Mears had it tied as of 2003. He also racked up a record seven Indy Car championships during his career, including those in 1967, 1975, and 1979. He also had his setbacks, however; in 1962, for example, he lost his third-place position after a loose wheel sent him spinning off the track, and four years later, in 1966, he was forced out of the race because of a multi-car accident that occurred shortly after the race start.
In 1964 Foyt swept the U.S. racing field, taking first place in ten out of 13 races. Among those ten victories was his second Indy 500 win, which he claimed after a fifth-position start and an average speed of 147.45 mph, he took the lead in 146 laps from competitors Rodger Ward and Lloyd Ruby. Starting in fourth place in 1967, he took the Indy cup for the third time, leading the field in his Sheraton Thompson Special for 27 laps with a then-record speed of 151.21 mph. Losing rival driver Parnelli Jones after Jones's turbocharged engine blew in the final laps, and closely tailed by Unser, Foyt avoided a pileup during the final lap to gain the two laps needed to win the race.
Foyt repeated his winning Indy 500 performance one last time in 1977, when, at age 42, he drove to victory from a fourth-place qualifying start; the car that carried him to his legendary fourth win at a top speed of 161.331 mph, is now in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway museum. He earned a total of $2,640,576 for his team by competing in the Indy 500, and because he owned—and sometimes built—the cars he drove, was able to keep much of his race winnings. For this reason, Foyt was the first driver to top earnings of $1million in the speedway's long and colorful history. He won his last Indy Car race in 1981, winning his ninth 500-mile event at that year's Pocono 500.
Although Foyt continued to return to Indianapolis every year to race in the 500, after 1977 he never again won the event. After more than three decades, in 1992 he made his last run around the legendary track. Qualifying for the 23rd starting position with a speed of 222.798 mph—over 68 mph faster than his qualifying speed in 1964—Foyt held a spot in the top 10 during more than half the race to finish in ninth place. That race proved to be Foyt's final Indy 500 run; although he practiced at the speedway the following season, he retired on the first qualifying day. Although his run for the 500 had ended, Foyt did return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to race in 1994's Brickyard 400, running 156 laps to place 30th in the pack, perhaps confirming his decision to retire.
A Versatile Driver
During a stellar career, Foyt has won 67 races on the Indy track—15 more than number-two-ranked driver Mario Andretti—and a total of 172 wins in major competitions. His performance, while rarely flagging, has in some years been amazing, as in 1963 when he won his third national championship by capturing three Indy Car events and finishing in eighth place or better in every race he entered. Besides winning his fourth national title and his second Indy 500 in 1964, Foyt also won the July 4th Firecracker 400 stock car race the following year. He won his fifth national Indy car championship in 1967, coming in 80 points ahead of rival Andretti, and his final national championships came in 1975 and 1979. By career end, he had garnered 12 national titles in the sport.
The mid-1960s were amazing years for Foyt as he became the third race-car driver to win races on an oval speedway, a road course, and a dirt track during a single racing season. On the speedway were his Indy Car victories; the road course was the 24-hour endurance race at LeMans he won in June of 1967, joining fellow driver Dan Gurney in a Ford Mark IV as the first U.S. team to win the grueling race. In the 1980s, with his career in Indy Car racing having already crested, he repeated his victory in the 24 hours at LeMans in 1983 and 1985, and was victorious at the 12-hour endurance race at Sebring, Florida in 1985.
A versatile racer who competed in as many as 50 races each year at the height of his career, Foyt succeeded not just in Indy car racing, but also in other forms of motor sports, and chalked up a record 20-plus victories in the U.S. Auto Club (USAC)'s Indy Car, USAC stock car (41), sprint car (28) and midget (20) categories. He also had seven victories in sports cars and two in championship dirt cars, earning the USAC dirt car champion title in 1975. Foyt's astonishing record was enhanced even further when he captured the world closed course speed record for an Oldsmobile in 1987, recording a 257-m.p.h. lap in a Quad-4 powered Aerotech.
Surprising to many is the fact that Foyt was capable of chalking up so many wins in stock-car events. Named USAC stock car champion in 1968, 1978, and 1979, in the last-named year he also won the USAC Indy Car championship and became the first driver to win both titles in the same year. Signing up with the Wood Brothers team in the early 1970s, Foyt also competed on the popular NASCAR stock-car circuit, winning seven NASCAR Winston Cup races, the 1972 Daytona 500 his most notable victory.
A True Son of Texas
Foyt, one of the most recognized race-car drivers of his generation as well as of the twentieth century, was able to sustain a career that combined versatility, competitiveness, and leadership, winning him the respect of his peers. Called "Supertex" by fans referring to his Texas roots, the feisty, outspoken, and charismatic Foyt gave racing fans a cause for excitement, especially during his younger years when he was noted for sometimes exhibiting a volatile temper. As Larry Schwartz commented in an essay posted on ESPN.com, "Foyt has always believed in God, America and himself—and not necessarily in that order. A man of conviction, he is loyal to his friends and indifferent to his enemies. He is brash and blunt. He expected no quarter on the racetrack, and gave none himself. He knew only one speed—pedal to the floor."
Considered one of Texas's "favorite sons," Foyt has won many fans, not only because of his ability as a driver, but also because of his outgoing, colorful personality. Always working from his home base in Houston, he established A. J. Foyt Enterprises and race shop in that city in 1965. Since his retirement in 1993 at the age of 58, he has shifted gears and moved from race car driving to automobile sales, using his hard-won fortune to open A. J. Foyt Honda, which has become the largest auto dealership in his home state. An astute businessman and a self-made millionaire, he also invested money in oil wells and a hotel chain, and also owns several horse and cattle ranches in his home state. Foyt also serves on the board of directors of Riverway Bank and Service Corporation International, the nation's largest funeral business.
Foyt was the first inductee into the Motor Sports Hall of Fame in 1989, and in 2004 became among the first to be honored in the newly established Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame based in Fort Worth. Not surprisingly, retiring as a driver did not end Foyt's involvement in the racing world; he remains active in motor sports, owning several race cars and fielding two teams in the U.S.-based Indy Racing League he helped establish in 1995 as a competitor with the Formula One Grand Prix. He also continues to be an out-spoken proponent of oval-track racing and of maintaining a U.S. presence in a sport that has become increasingly Europeanized. In 1999 he also established A. J. Foyt Racing, a NASCAR team headquartered in North Carolina.
Foyt continues to live in Houston with his wife Lucy, whom he married in 1955. Of Hoyt's four children, Jerry pursued a career in stock car racing, while Larry Foyt drives on the NASCAR circuit as part of Foyt Racing. Beginning with junior dragsters, grandson and Formula One racer A. J. Foyt IV also carries on the family tradition, completing his rookie NASCAR season in 2003. In 1983 Foyt published his autobiography, simply titled A. J. Twenty years later he still held the record for the most Indy Car wins, and remained the only driver in the history of the sport to win seven national Indy Car titles.
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ESPN.com,http://www.espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00014199.html (December 6, 2003).
Foyt Racing: The Official Web site,http://www.foytracing.com (December 6, 2003).
Motor Sports Hall of Fame Web site,http://www.mshf.com/hof/foyt.htm (December 14, 2003).