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 as 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 utterly 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, even though he sustained injuries that could—and have— disabled others. In the end, Foyt's amazing drive helped him to become one of history's most amazing drivers.

MORE ABOUT A.J. FOYT

THE EARLY YEARS


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 little open-wheel racecar to drive around their backyard. When A.J. 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 contest, and decided that he wanted to race cars for the rest of his life. Foyt adored his father and strove to earn his approval. 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 INDYCARS


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 backward 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. Also, 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 genuinely 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 earned 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.




CHRONOLOGY


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
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




PAIN, SUFFERING AND INJURIES


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 to avoid crashing into Junior Johnson and Marvin Panch ahead of him, he steered onto the shoulder but the car dug in and started flipping down an embankment. By the time the medics reached Foyt's car, Foyt was not breathing, his skin was blue, and they assumed he was dead. However, fellow driver Parnelli Jones noticed slight movement, and scooped the mud out of Foyt's mouth, and saved his life. Foyt broke his back and fractured his left heel and bruised his aorta. He was back racing two months later.

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 loose and sprayed two gallons of alcohol-nitro mixture onto Foyt's back. 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 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.

Foyt experienced his most painful injury during an Indy car race in 1990, at the Road America course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Once again, 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 went off straight hoping to be stopped by the sandtrap which he flew over and his car plowed into a dirt embankment. In the process, Foyt broke his left knee, dislocated his left tibia, crushed his left heel, dislocated his right heel, and suffered compartment syndrome in both feet. Foyt remained awake as the doctors tried to unearth him; he pleaded with them to hit him in the head with a hammer and knock him out. 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' strength-and-rehabilitation coach, Steve Watterson, in an attempt to come back and win a fifth Indianapolis 500 race. He qualified on the front row for the 75th Indy 500 to the amazement of everyone. He competed in his final 500 the following year and finished ninth.




AWARDS & 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 Daytona 500
  • 1972 USAC dirt car championship
  • 1977 Wins record fourth Indianapolis 500
  • 1979 Becomes the 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





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