Wed, May 21, 2003 - Page 19 News List

AJ Foyt rambles on about racing


AJ Foyt pulled up a chair in his Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage and ordered someone to hit the mute button on the television behind him. A better show was about to begin for the reporters who circled around as if he were headed toward another winner's circle.

It's been 10 years since Foyt last competed in the Indianapolis 500 -- a race he won four times -- but the brash and blunt Texan still has a large presence at the historic track.

"Indianapolis has skinned many a people's butt," Foyt said in his Texas drawl. "I've been very fortunate here."

Not just at Indy, but seemingly everywhere. The fiery Texan was the first driver to win the Indy 500 four times. He also won the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car endurance race, as well as the 1972 Daytona 500.

Now he owns teams in both NASCAR and the Indy Racing League, where his 18-year-old grandson will start in the middle of Row 8 for Sunday's Indy 500. AJ Foyt IV is the youngest qualifier on record in the race's history and won't turn 19 until race day. "We've been close ever since I drove go-karts," the younger Foyt said. "We've always had fun. We go to a lot of different places together."

That puts him ahead of his grandfather, who was still running midgets when he was 18. His first Indy race was in 1958, when he was 23, and he finished 15th after spinning out.

"I was a snot-nosed punk kid rookie," Foyt said. "I was here about four days before the car came. I went to sign in with USAC and they said, `We don't know if you have a ride. When the car gets here, you can sign in.'"

So Foyt walked around outside the garages for four days waiting for his Al Dean Van Lines car to arrive from Phoenix.

"They wouldn't let me in the garage area," said Foyt. "I had to sit outside the fence."

Foyt has been a fixture at Indy ever since, staying with the IRL through its split with CART.

"I'm tired of these racing politics, all phases of it," Foyt said. "It's politics on top of politics."

He's seen all the changes in racing technology and lifestyle and he's not sure it's for the better. He remembers when he owned everything and worked on the cars himself.

"The first thing drivers want today is a million-dollar motor home and a private jet," he said. "All I wanted when I first started was a bed to sleep in that wasn't the back seat of my car. There's a hell of a difference today."

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