A. J. Foyt turns 85 today. That must mean I’m old. Reaching that age is an accomplishment for anyone, but quite amazing for someone who began racing in the ’50s and ’60s. I’m not going to list all his accomplishments. I like to keep these essays short. There are a few that standout, however.
Foyt is the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500 in both a front engine car and a rear engine car. In 1964 he won 10 of the 13 USAC Championship races, including the first seven races of the season. I saw him win a stock car race at the Indiana State Fairgrounds after starting last. He qualified higher, but was unhappy with his time and withdrew it. He won in almost every type of car he raced.
I have had racing heroes since I was six or seven years old, but I never got the chance to see any of them race. Bill Vukovich was my first hero, and after his death at the 500, I followed Bob Sweikert, but alas, he too died the following year. A. J. was the first of my racing heroes that I actually saw drive. It didn’t hurt any that he had the number 14 on his car, Vukovich’s number.
I loved the way he drove. Sure there were other outstanding drivers in that era- Andretti, Jones, the Unsers-and I appreciated all of them. Yet, there was something special about Foyt. I liked his unapologetic style and the way he seemed to always be in a position to win. He didn’t always get to Victory Lane, but more often than not, he had a chance.
It is my belief that the modern era of racing began with Foyt’s 1961 Indianapolis 500 victory. He beat the drivers of the 50s, some of whom had raced in the early post World War II years. His future rivals were yet to make an appearance at the Speedway. I think all fans owe him thanks for that.
As I have written on several occasions, the stars of that era who miraculously survived a very dangerous period in the sport are all now in their 80s. I believe Paul Goldsmith is 90. As you watch the NTT Indycar Series races this season, take a moment or two to reflect on the sport’s heritage. No matter who your favorite driver of that era is, we all owe a debt of gratitude to A. J. If you see one of the legends at a track, please say hello and thank you to them.