By BRANT JAMES, Times Staff Writer
Published March 27, 2007
Published March 27, 2007
A.J. Foyt. Perhaps no driver has so embodied the brazen, bold, unabashed spirit that defined racing in the sport's golden era. He was a winner, unapologetic for it.
At 72, he's seen it all, done it all, says what he thinks. And he doesn't really care whom he offends. He's cheated death, often under absurd circumstances, and somehow grown larger than life in a life that was already legendary.
In recognition of Foyt's 50 years at open wheel racing's top level - his IndyCar team will again compete Sunday in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg - here's 50 essential facts about Foyt, the kind of ornery, contrary force of nature they just don't make anymore.
1 A.J. Foyt won 76 races and a record seven Indy-style car national championships.
2 He's the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, 24 Hours of LeMans, 24 Hours of Daytona and 12 Hours of Sebring.
3 He survived an attack by a swarm of 60,000 killer bees on Aug. 6, 2005, when he was clearing brush on his Texas ranch. He was stung at least 200 times in the face, sending him into systemic shock.
4 Then he refused to go to the hospital, asking to "die here under the oak tree" until his doctor intervened.
5 He is among three to win four Indianapolis 500s, and won as an owner in 1999 with Kenny Brack.
6 He's the only driver to start 35 consecutive Indy 500s.
7 His 67 Indy-style car wins is a record.
8 Foyt won seven races in NASCAR's top series, now Nextel Cup.
9 After a massive crash at Elkhart Lake, Wis., in 1990, a misunderstanding with his physician led to him being prescribed a horse medication for pain relief, causing an allergic reaction that nearly killed him.
10 His nine 500-mile Indy car wins (four at Indy, four at Pocono, Pa., and one at Ontario, Calif.) is a record.
11 He won 10 of 13 USAC races (then open wheel's top level) in 1964 for a record 77 percent win percentage.
12 Named Driver of the (20th) Century by the Associated Press.
13 Won Indy Racing League championships as an owner with co-titleist Scott Sharp (1996) and Kenny Brack (1998).
14 His thought on arriving for his first Indianapolis 500 in 1958: "To be truthful with you, I was thinking, 'This is for big men and not little kids like me.' "
15 Track officials, not knowing who he was, wouldn't let him on the grounds. "I had a ride with Dean Van Lines. I tried to sign in two days early and Frankie Baines says: 'We don't know who you are, and we don't know if you got the ride. You don't get no pit pass until the car gets here.' I stood outside the fence and couldn't get in. I'll never forget that and I'll never forget his a--."
16 Foyt was mauled by a lion after qualifying at DuQuoin State Fairgrounds in Illinois in the late 1960s. "All of a sudden, he jerked himself loose on the chain, pulled the stake out of the ground. Well, crap, that scared the hell out of me. That son of a gun made a leap, and I went face down on the ground. The lion was on my back. He opened his mouth, and I turned my head up and I was like 'God d---, he's gonna bite my head off.' So I put my head down and the trainer come up there. He said: 'You shouldn't have run. He's trained to do that in the movies.' "
17 His biggest fear was catching fire in the days when cars were rolling gas tanks, having seen Pat O'Connor burned alive after a 15-car crash in a practice before the 1958 Indianapolis 500.
18 Foyt caught fire three times in his career, twice severely.
19 The first was at Milwaukee in 1966 when his rear-engine car crashed during practice.
20 The next was at DuQuoin, the day after the 1972 Indy 500, during a dirt car race when fuel spilled on him during a pit stop, prompting him to unbuckle and jump out. His car ran over him and broke his leg.
21 Made the mistake of telling someone to splash water in the car while running what is now the Pepsi 400 at Daytona, then an early afternoon race, in 1965. "God almighty ... the floor plate started steaming the water and I felt like a d--- lobster in there.'
22 Tussled with Arie Luyendyk in Victory Circle after the inaugural IRL race at Texas Motor Speedway in 1997 when the driver pushed down a friend's wife to get in. Luyendyk had been denied victory because of a scoring error that gave Billy Boat (Foyt's driver) the win. Luyendyk was later awarded the win, but Foyt kept the original trophy.
23 Foyt was a clean, but vengeful driver. "People knew I was clean, but if you did something dirty, I wasn't going to wait two or three laps."
24 As an owner, he chucked a laptop computer from his pit box during the 1998 Indy 500 when his driver, Kenny Brack, ran out of fuel right after a data technician said the car could make another lap. "The computer was telling me we still had fuel and I'm watching the car run out of fuel going into Turn 1. They kept saying 'computer says.' That's when I told them they could take their computer and stick it up their a--. Don't tell me when I see the thing leading the race coasting to a stop. I don't care what the computer says, that son of gun is out of fuel."
25 He admired NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., who helped pay Foyt's expenses to coerce him to lend his fame to the fledgling Daytona 500 in the early 1960s. "He really knew how to build this stuff," Foyt said.
26 Though he says he "wouldn't walk across the street to see a (NASCAR) race for free today," he's proud of his record in the series. "You got some pretty famous names that never won what I won and run a hell of a lot more times than I did."
27 Foyt raced long enough to see speeds increase at Indianapolis Motor Speedway from 135 to 230 mph. "If somebody told me I could run around this race track wide open and never lift, it's hard for me to believe. ... It's so much easier. Compared to some of those old Roadsters, you see them wiggle a little bit, they would go spinning."
28 Was pronounced dead on the track on Jan. 17, 1965, a day after his 30th birthday, after a crash during a Grand National Race in Riverside, Calif., when the track medic arrived to find his face blue. He broke his back, fractured his heel and sustained a damaged aorta. But ...
29 Parnelli Jones stopped at the accident scene, saw Foyt twitch, scooped mud from his mouth and saved his life by clearing his airway.
30 The footage from that accident was used in the 1965 movie Red Line 7000, starring James Caan and George Takei.
31 He fractured his right arm so severely in a crash at the 1981 Michigan 500 he nearly lost it. Foyt rehabilitated the arm by painting fences at his 1,500-acre ranch.
32 At Elkhart Lake, Wis., in 1990, he broke his left knee, dislocated his left tibia, crushed his left heel and dislocated his right heel when his Indy car's brakes failed and he plowed through a dirt embankment at the end of the course's longest straightaway. "I'll live with Elkhart Lake until I die because of my ankles and all of that."
33 Foyt broke two vertebrae in his back practicing for the 1983 Firecracker (now Pepsi) 400 crashing into the wall. He won the sports car race that night.
34 Foyt dreads surgery. He's had plenty. He has a titanium left knee and his ankles required multiple surgeries and plates after the Elkhart Lake accident. In December he said, "I've got to have another knee put in because I don't have that stuff done until I can't walk anymore. It's getting worse and worse. I don't like those knives. When you go under a doctor's care, you lose. I've never won."
35 Foyt covered the serial numbers on the tires he used in winning the Indianapolis 500 in 1977. He mounted his own sets to maintain secrecy.
36 Foyt said there are no current drivers he would pay to see race.
37 He is friends with two-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart, below, who briefly drove USAC Silver Crowns for him and had his first Indy car test in a Foyt car.
38 Foyt was prepared to field an Indy 500 entry for Stewart in 2004 but "the lawyers got into it," Foyt said.
39 Stewart on his favorite Foyt memory: "At the Indy 500 one year he got out of his car and took a hammer, beat on it and then got back in. A.J. and I are good enough friends that I can say this: I've seen him work on stuff and I wouldn't drive anything that he's actually touched, let alone beat on it with a hammer and then drive it. But I say that with a lot of respect."
40 On being involved in open-wheel activity at Daytona International Speedway in 1959, when Marshall Teague and George Amick were killed: "I'm glad I was young and didn't know any better. I don't think I did run the second race. It scared the hell out of me probably. It's just like they talk about race drivers, and they've never been scared. I can't remember a race I run in that at one time or another I didn't scare the crap out of myself."
41 Foyt eats his steak with butter on top.
42 He does not eat his broccoli.
43 Foyt said the decision to end his driving career to focus on being an owner in 1993 was easier than he expected, but it was agonizing. "We were very fast that year. Practice was going over 225. I said, 'Who hit the wall?' That's when Robby Gordon was driving one of my cars. They said 'Robby again.' I got to thinking I couldn't run a team and worry about the other car. I said, 'I'm through.' "
44 Foyt nearly drowned at 16 in the waters off Houston when his boat capsized. Foyt had put on a life preserver because he was cold, but his friend, celebrating his birthday, had not and died. Foyt was rescued by a passing oil company boat. "I was out there about eight hours," he said. "You seen them movies where people holler at boats going by. I'll never forget a fishing boat went by and we were out there like carp bobbing up and down."
45 He's older, takes a little longer to get around, has found some respect for things he never imagined (bees) but is the same brash Texan as in those old black-and-white films. "I'm the same as I always been, I'm just not too active because I'm too d--- crippled up."
46 On whether safety advances make modern drivers unduly brave or foolish: "They still got to thrill themselves. One time or another that car is going to jump on you the wrong way. A good friend of mine, his throttle got stuck on his car at Indy in practice. He hit the wall. They asked him, 'What were you thinking?' He says, 'Faint you son of a b---- faint.' "
47 He criticized James Hylton for attempting to qualify for the Daytona 500 at age 72 but admits if Mario Andretti were to attempt a comeback, "I might have to get me on that diet."
48 Foyt called Stewart to chastise him for bumping Matt Kenseth off the track during the 2006 Daytona 500, asking him if he was a "drug head."
49 A vocal supporter of bringing NASCAR to Indianapolis Motor Speedway when many of his peers were not, he took the first lap there in a stock car for a television commercial and raced the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994.
50 On whether he would have liked to race in this era: "I'd like to be young again, if that's what you're saying. We didn't make much money, but people don't know the fun. ... I mean those are the things you can't repeat."