A Season of Change
By A.J. Foyt
Change can be hard, especially as you get older and look back on what you remember as the good old days. I’m not so sure the good old days were all that good, but they seemed to be a lot more fun. Of course, I was young and winning races so that probably explains a lot of it. But things don’t last forever and if you’re going to survive, whether it’s in business or sports, you have to be willing to change.
The IZOD IndyCar Series went through a lot of changes in the off season including new cars, new engines, new tracks and new drivers. There were a lot of question marks about this season but last weekend’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg gave us some answers.
The new cars designed and built by Dallara turned out to be pretty rugged; the Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus engines were more reliable than expected; and the 26 drivers actually did know how to look out for each other. They not only got through the first turn cleanly on lap 1, they raced on the streets of St. Pete for 100 laps without a major crash.
I’m not sure how long that respect will last, but as an owner, I hope it lasts for the whole season.
There was a lot of shuffling of drivers in the off season so it will take some time to remember who is driving which car. We switched drivers too. Mike Conway, who won last year’s Long Beach Grand Prix, now drives the Honda-powered No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara. I like him. He’s nice, he’s focused and he’s fast. I really like that he’s fast.
We didn’t stop there. We also hired Don Halliday, a top engineer who has worked in Indy car racing since the 1980s. We have a mutual friend in Kenny Brack who won Indy driving for me in 1999. Kenny really liked working with Don when he started running in the CART Indy Car Series and he recommended Don to me. I trust Kenny and after talking to Don, I was impressed with him and his approach to racing. He’s a car designer so when you’re developing a new chassis, that experience comes in handy.
We hired a couple more engineers to assist Don plus another couple mechanics so the team has a different look this year.
Those hires were very important for this season -- but my most important hire happened several years ago when I brought my son Larry Foyt in to run the family business. It goes back to what I said about change. If you’re going to survive, you have to adapt.
It turned out to be true for our ABC Supply team. Larry has the energy, the time and the commitment to run this team. Because of some health issues I had this past winter, I didn’t. A small problem with bone spurs near my artificial knee turned into a real big problem when I got a staph infection after the spurs were removed. I’ve learned a lot about staph infections and most of it isn’t good. They are scary--especially when I keep hearing about friends of friends who have died from them.
The doctors certainly got my attention and I can honestly say that I’ve tried to follow doctors’ orders—probably for the first time in my life. I’m doing better but I’m still not 100%.
The point is that Larry had to be the one in charge and he has done a helluva job! Our team is working well together and we had a good off season of testing. It showed in practice in St. Pete because we were always in the top 10. Qualifying didn’t go quite as well as we wanted (started 11th) but we felt we had a good car for the race.
Mike got up to second in the race and was running good but a problem on a pit stop set us back a little bit. We would have pulled back into the top 10 if the gearbox didn’t break with less than 30 laps to go. We ended up 20th. Our race ended early but I think that Mike and our ABC Supply team showed that they will be competitive this season.
The racing on the track wasn’t super exciting but I think if the fans are patient, they will see some good racing as the teams figure out these new cars. I also think everyone is being pretty careful in the first few races. Knowing racers, I can’t see that attitude lasting for too long.
This weekend we head to Barber Motorsports Park outside of Birmingham for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The race will be televised on NBC Sports Channel Sunday, April 1 starting at 2:00 pm ET. I hope you’ll tune in.