DRIVERS IN THE SIXTIES
A J FOYT
USA

Written in 1962

The man who won the 1961 lndianapolis 500 at record speed and the USAC National Championship in both 1960 and 1961, is confident he can repeat both feats in 1962.

A. J. Foyt Jr.'s swift leap to the top of the racing world has been phenomenal. Conservative USAC officials call the young Texan the best all-round driver in the organization and predict that he will be one of the great drivers of all time.

Foyt has come a long way since his first race at Houston, Texas in the early 1950s, but he was bitten by the racing bug much earlier.

When A.J. was only five, his father, A.J. Foyt, Sr., built him a little 3-bhp car which was capable of 55 mph. "That car made a lot of noise. Some of the neighbors were afraid A.J. would run over someone or get hurt," his mother recalls, "so they would call the police. When A.J. would see a police car coming he would quickly park his little racer, come flying in to the house through a door or window-whichever happened to be most convenient-and dive under his bed. We would pull him out, the officer would lecture him, and he would promise not to speed any more. But it wouldn't last long-that urge would come back and he would be out there again, going as fast as he could."

At six, Foyt's interest in auto racing was even more apparent and he persuaded his father to build him a bigger, much faster car.

"I thought that car was the most beautiful thing there ever was," says Foyt. "It was red and white and I wore a red silk shirt and racing outfit my mother made."

A.J. had the car only a week when he took it to the local midget track and challenged his favorite driver, "Doc" Cossey-one of the best in the area-to a match race. The good natured driver accepted and, to the delight of the fans, the pair raced one lap. A.J. won-with the help of Cossey's developing a little engine trouble. After that taste of victory, Foyt's determination to race was intense and unshakable.

A.J. was 18 when he stepped into his first true racing car at Houston's Playland Park in 1953. After the race his first words were: "My gosh, I was so scared I didn't know what to do or which way to go!"

Nevertheless, he broke the track record qualifying. In his third time out in a midget he won the feature event and his career was launched.

For three years Foyt campaigned through Texas, driving stock cars and midgets. Then he paused to marry a beautiful girl named Lucy.

By 1957, Foyt decided it was time to start competing against some of the bigger names of the Midwest and the West Coast. The same year, at 22, Foyt entered his first National Championship race at Springfield, Illinois, and had the thrill of "bumping" the late Pat O'Connor from the starting field. He finished ninth of 35 and was tabbed the driver to watch.

The same season, in his first time out in a sprint car on the high banked half-mile speedway at, Salem, Ill., Foyt. amazed the experts by setting the fastest qualifying time and winning all events he was in, including the day's feature race.

Foyt got his first big break in racing the next year, when he was assigned to drive the Dean Van Lines Special in the 1958 Indianapolis "500."

"When Mr. Dean asked me to drive his car," says Foyt, "I was the happiest guy in the world."

Although he was disappointed in qualifying no higher than 12th, A.J.'s luck was still with him in his initial 500. The spectacular 16-car pile-up which cost the life of Pat O'Connor came on the very first lap of that race. "All of a sudden," he recalls, "cars were going in all directions when I headed into the backstretch. It was one terrible mess and it shook me up quite a bit. Had I started closer to the front I would have been right in the middle."

On the 148th lap, Foyt and his Dean Van Lines car spun off the track and out of the race. "My radiator hose broke, spewing water on the track which I hit with my own wheels, putting me in a spin," Foyt explains, with a rueful headshake.

He finished 16th. "A fine performance your first time out," said car owner Al Dean. Foyt raced the Dean car in 11 championship events that season. Although he wasn't doing as well as he would have liked-mechanical problems were "bugging" the Dean racing stable-he was gradually building his name in racing from coast to coast. He finished 10th in National Championship standings.

"My first year at Indianapolis taught me plenty," A.J. said recently. "I think I let my nervousness get the best of me. But my second I played it a little cooler. After the drivers' meeting the afternoon before the race I slipped away from the track with my wife Lucy, had a mess of ice cream and went to a movie to try to forget the race morning till it arrived. That night I ate a big steak and went to bed real early."

Although the young Texan didn't win in 1959 one thing was sure the other drivers knew he was around. Starting the Dean car in the middle of the sixth row, he finished an impressive 10th. He handled his car well and kept out of trouble, and his average of over 100 mph for the race made him a member of the exclusive 100-Mile-An-Hour Club.

Once during the race, on the 47th lap, Foyt found himself in a hot spot. Driver Chuck Weyant, trying to avoid Mike Magill's car as it bounced off the wall of the northeast turn where the previous year's pile-up had occurred, shot across in front of Foyt's car.

"I just gritted my teeth and said to myself, 'Here we go again!' Foyt said. "I thought for a minute we were going to have another pile-up. It was awful close. Weyant's car missed me by about four feet-and we were doing 160 miles an hour."

By lap 120, he was running sixth, but pit stops moved him back to 10th. "I sure learned a lot more from this race," said Foyt afterward.

The tide was running full for A.J. Foyt, Jr. in 1960. He got another big chance-this time to drive one of the famous Bowes Seal Fast Specials-and snapped it up.

For the third time, Foyt was the youngest driver in the field. He qualified 16th, but clutch failure on the 90th lap ended his race there.

"I went back to my garage thoroughly disgusted," says Foyt. "I kept thinking how hard I had been trying to win, and how unsuccessful I'd been. I decided to give up racing and told my wife that night: 'That was it! I'm through.' "

Lucy spent hours persuading A.J. at least to enter the Milwaukee 100-mile race the following week.

"To please my wife," Foyt recalls, "I decided I would try it. If I didn't do very well I would quit."

He finished second at Milwaukee and went on to win the DuQuoin' 100-miler. Suddenly he had the winning touch. "I don't know what happened," says Foyt, "but that Bowes car and me turned out to be one hell of a combination. We won at the Indianapolis Fairgrounds, Phoenix and Sacramento; we got second. at the Milwaukee 200-miler, and third at Syracuse and Trenton. I won not only the 1960 National Championship but also the Eastern big car title. Now I felt all my efforts were worth it. I would stick with racing maybe even win the 500 some day."

LastMemorial pay he, did. During the closing laps, Foyt had a bad break that almost cost him the race. Leading with only 16 laps to go, the husky, 18O-pound driver blinked in disbelief at a pit signal to come in the Bowes crew had discovered that on his last pit stop the refueling equipment had malfunctioned and the young Texan had roared back out mistakenly thinking he had a full tank. As Foyt shot into the pits and his crew frantically poured fuel, Eddie Sachs whizzed by into the lead. Seconds later the Bowes car tore out in pursuit, but it seemed obvious that there wasn't time for Foyt to catch Sachs.

"But I made up my mind to put my foot all the way down on the throttle," says Foyt. "I was going to catch him if it was humanly possible to do it."

Then his luck turned. Three laps from the end, Sach's car suddenly swerved into the pits, a gleaming white patch of cord showing on the right rear tire. Foyt won at a record speed of 139.130 mph.

After the race a track official commented, "If that had been any other driver, Sachs would have won. But Foyt made him burn rubber."

Foyt, who like the late Tony Bettenhausen will drive anything, handles midgets, sprint cars and championship cars with as much ease and ability as Indy cars. The two-time champion has no fear on any track flat, banked, dirt or asphalt-and will drive just as hard no matter what the track conditions. "It makes no difference what a track is like," he says. "I hate to lose and I'm out to win no matter where I start."

During a season, young Foyt competes in 50 to 60 meets. In 1961 he drove more competition miles than any other Championship Trail driver. All this racing is good for him, he believes. "It keeps me alert and my reflexes sharp at all times."

With the amount of big-league racing Foyt has been doing he's been fortunate to come through without any injury serious enough to keep him inactive for any length of time. He recalls only four accidents in his racing career. Three of them were minor: a collision with a spinning car in a sprint-car race; a flip in a midget after a tire blew; another when he hit a chuck hole. His most recent accident cost him not onlya trip to the hospital but also the 1961 sprint-car title. He had entered a 100-mile sprint-car race at Langhorne, Pa. A victory would clinch the title. Foyt began his bid for the lead early and was moving up very fast on the leaders when a rock flew up, smacking him squarely in the eye.

Blood filling his goggles almost blinded him, but the determined Foyt kept forging ahead for 30 more laps. After a pit stop, however, officials and doctors ruled him out of the competition and he was rushed to the hospital, where he spent the next five days.

As you read this, A.J. Foyt, Jr., will be keyed up and waiting eagerly for the 1962 Indianapolis 500.

"When the first of May rolls around I'll be ready, and so will my new Bowes Seal Fast Special. It will have a few more horses and minor innovations which will make it capable of winning the race again," he says. "I'll spend the first few weeks making extensive test runs, shaking the bugs out of the car and getting used to the new equipment. I feel that I can win again easily-barring of course any mechanical failure. I have what I consider one of the finest pieces. of equipment at the Speedway. My mechanic and chief pit man, George Bignotti, is about the best there is. My Indianapolis experience has taught me things: how to relax better, how to get around the track in various grooves. I'll be ready. Maybe I can even win the championship again."

As the '62 season began, Foyt was well on his way. He won the Trenton 100-mile opener on April 3 easily, at a record-breaking 101.l0l-mph speed.

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Author: ArchitectPage