A. J. Foyt (b. 1935)
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A. J. Foyt

A. J. Foyt

A. J. Foyt

A. J. Foyt was born on 16 January 1935 at Houston, Texas. Anthony Joseph Foyt Jnr entered motor racing almost as soon as he was able, taking part in his first race at Houston in 1953. He drove in a rough-and-tumble midget-car event. This type of racing was held on cinder-tracks of one quarter, one third or half-mile, and the bravest man invariably won.

Foyt soon began to attract notice and quickly moved up into Sprint cars, which were bigger, more powerful versions of the midget racers and which sometimes raced on the paved ovals as well as cinder tracks. By 1958, he was good enough to take second place in the Sprint Car Championship of the United States Automobile Club (USAC) and he took part in his first Indianapolis 500 race in the Dean Van Lines Special, spinning off the track, but being placed sixteenth.

He took part in the 1958 Race of Two Worlds event at Monza in Italy, finishing sixth after taking over another driver's car. For the next few years he concentrated on events run by USAC, taking part in almost every type of racing they organised. Even when he became a highly successful and wealthy driver he still took part in midget, sprint and stock-car races, sometimes driving three or four races in a week.

He won his first National Championship in 1960 and the following year he won Indianapolis for the first time, driving the Bowes Seal Fast Special, also taking the National Championship for the second year running. As he became more successful, Foyt became a controversial spokesman for the type of racing enjoyed by the USAC drivers, and when the European sports cars and drivers arrived at Indianapolis, he was openly contemptuous of the tiny, mid-engined cars.

Even when they showed their high speed and incredible cornering ability, he still maintained that the front-engined 'Dinosaurs' would blow off the little European cars. He did manage to win Indianapolis again in 1964 in a front-engined car of the old type and, as he passed the finish, he flipped the bird to the Ford and Lotus people in the pits, whose car he had just beaten. As he later commented, his win 'wasn't bad for a li'l ole antique car'.


Foyt was no fool, however, and, within three months of Indianapolis, he was racing one of the Lotus-Fords about which he had been so contemptuous. For the 1965 Indianapolis race, he had the use of a Lotus and a Lola, which did not bring him any luck, and he eventually decided to turn constructor, building his own Coyote-Fords. He won Indianapolis for the third time in 1967 in his Coyote and took the USAC National Championship for the third time. Foyt was contracted to Ford for a number of years and in 1966 they invited him to drive the Mk II 7-liter Ford GT in long-distance endurance races. He teamed up with Ronnie Bucknum in the Sebring 12-hour race where they finished twelfth.

In the following season, he again drove the Ford, finishing second at Sebring, then winning the Le Mans 24-hour race, with Dan Gurney, in a Mk IV Ford GT. As well as all this activity, Foyt found time for a full season of stock-car racing and sprint and midget races. A. J. Foyt won the USAC Stock-Car Championship in 1968, and continued winning in most' other categories, until he was eventually credited with more race wins than any other American driver in history.

In the 1967 Indianapolis 500, Parnelli Jones' turbine car was expected to easily defeat the field of piston engines. Jones lapped the field, but his car expired with three laps remaining, and Foyt inherited the lead. But as he drove down the back straightaway on the last lap, Foyt suddenly remembered an odd premonition that had struck him the night before, when he wondered aloud what would happen in the event of a big last-lap accident. As Foyt moved through Turn 3 on the 200th lap, he slowed down. A few hundred yards ahead of him, Carl Williams spun out as he exited Turn 4, triggering a five-car front-stretch accident right in front of Foyt. Traveling at no more than 100 mph, Foyt threaded his way through the wreckage and safely took the checkered flag. The race took two days to complete when rain stopped the race on the 18th lap on the first day.

He did not win Indianapolis between 1967 and 1976, but he made pole position in 1974 and 1975 with his Ford V8-engined Coyote. His 1974 season was marred by non-finishes but in 1975 the Coyote repaid A. J's faith with a string of good results to capture another USAC championship. Foyt won the California 500 at Ontario but was robbed of his elusive fourth Indy win after hitting accident debris while leading; he finished second after a pit stop. He was second again in 1976's rain-soaked Indy and abandoned NASCAR racing after being disqualified for allegedly cheating in Daytona practice.

In the 1977 Indianapolis 500, Foyt ran out of fuel, and had to make up around 32 seconds on Gordon Johncock. Foyt made up 1.5 to 2 seconds per lap by turning up his turbo boost, which risks destroying the engine. Johncock's own engine expired just as Foyt had closed to within eight seconds back after both drivers' final pit stops, and Foyt passed for the win. He won the Indianapolis 500 4 times, in 1961, 1964, 1967, 1977. He was the first driver to do so. The feat has since been matched by Al Unser (1970, 1971, 1978, 1987) and Rick Mears (1979, 1984, 1988, 1991). Of his 67 career championship car race victories, twelve (12) were won at Trenton (NJ) Speedway. Foyt also won the Indycar Series 7 times; a record that still stands.

In a 1990 CART race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, Foyt was involved in a serious crash that damaged his legs and feet severely. He would return the following year for the 1991 Indianapolis 500 to qualify 2nd.
A. J. Foyt
A. J. Foyt.
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