A.J. Foyt is exceptional. Period. Through his desire, talent, and staunch determination, he has amassed a record that won’t be equaled in his lifetime. Major victories in Indycar, including the Indy 500, and NASCAR, including the Daytona 500, and sports car, including the 24 Hours of LeMans, set him apart from all others who have dared to strap into a race car.
Such a record could be intimidating to prospective drivers of the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda in the IZOD IndyCar Series, but Foyt is quick to point out that he expects his driver to give him 100% effort, nothing more but nothing less. He believes that ex-Formula 1 driver Takuma Sato will fit the bill.
“We chose to go with Takuma Sato because he brings a lot of experience to our team but he has the hunger of a rookie--and he’s certainly proved that he has the desire to win,” said A.J. Foyt.
“I like the fact that Sato is competitive on both road courses and ovals and that he is a charger,” he continued. “I think he has learned quite a bit in the short time he’s been over here and I look forward to working with him this year.”
Sato demonstrated right away that this combination would be successful. He qualified second at the season opener in St. Petersburg (finished eighth) and just two races later, he won his first IZOD IndyCar Series race with his dominant performance in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“I’m just so happy because they did a great job and Takuma drove a helluva race,” Foyt said after the popular victory which he watched from his home in Houston (he was scheduled for back surgery that week). “Larry did a great job, and Don and the whole team just did a fantastic job. We’ve had the support of ABC for quite a while now and it’s terrific to finally get that ABC car in the winner’s circle. I’ve been in victory lane a lot myself and I know what that’s like and I’m so glad to see them there. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there with everybody but I’m glad it shows they can win without me.”
Now in his fourth year of IndyCar competition, Sato took just 52 starts to become the first Japanese driver to score an IndyCar victory. In the past three years, he’d won pole positions at Iowa and Edmonton (in 2011), claimed five top-5 finishes and 13 top-10s in 49 starts.
“I am extremely excited to be a part of A.J. Foyt Racing and working with ABC Supply for the 2013 season,” said Sato prior to the season’s start. “I have seen the potential of the team last year on a number of occasions. I think the team has one of the best engineering staffs in the paddock led by Don Halliday.
“While I do not know A.J. well yet, it is unbelievable what he did in his career. A.J. has achieved so many wins in every type of car, at every type of circuit, and in every type of situation. That experience can only help in trying to win races this year. I think with A.J. and the team helping me this year, we can be very successful,” Sato said.
Foyt is no stranger to success. One reason for his unparalleled career is that he has never shied away from challenges. Last year brought about a challenge that Foyt hadn’t faced in 15 years: a new car design and a new engine. The last time came in 1997 when he ran Oldsmobile Aurora-powered Dallara and G-Force cars in his two-car team.
In 2012, the IZOD IndyCar Series teams debuted a radically designed Dallara chassis and turbocharged engines. With three engine manufacturers to choose from last year--Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus—Foyt opted to use Honda’s engine which he’ll continue to use this season.
Indeed, 2012 was a transition year for Foyt in more ways than one. Over the last several years, his youngest son Larry has worked alongside his father making constructive changes to the race team and gaining his father’s trust in the process.
Last year Foyt made the most significant changes to the team since becoming Team Director in the fall of 2006.
He hired Don Halliday as chief engineer, whose experience as a race car designer proved invaluable. Halliday was assisted by Raul Prados, a ‘rookie’ engineer in Indy cars whose technical skills were honed on the European GP2 circuit, the feeder series to Formula 1. The No. 14 car employed its strongest engineering staff in recent memory.
The timing couldn’t have been better as A.J. dealt with several health issues in the 2011-2012 off season—repairing a torn rotator cuff and removing bone spurs in the area around his artificial knee. A staph infection developed after the knee surgery which required two more surgeries to correct.
“I’m so glad that I had Larry handling the day-to-day operations,” said Foyt, who spent nearly two weeks in the hospital in January, 2012. “Each year he has taken on more responsibility and this past year, when I couldn’t be in the shop, he handled everything. I’m really proud of him.”
The team enjoyed some success with driver Mike Conway at the wheel—notably a podium finish in Toronto—but the results didn’t reflect just how competitive the team was in 2012. More changes were made over the winter and A.J. is looking forward to the season with a renewed vigor.
Foyt has seen a lot of changes in his celebrated career which began in 1953 on the small dirt tracks around Houston, Texas. He soon turned it into a globetrotting romp of racetracks throughout North America and in Europe, Australia and Asia. However, the Texan’s most memorable races took place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway where he became the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.
Foyt has competed in 55 straight Indy 500s--including driving in a record 35 consecutive races! He holds the Indy Car Series records for most career victories (67), most national championships (7), and most triumphs in one season (10). He is the only driver to win these crown jewels of motorsports: the Indy 500, the Daytona 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been racing Indy cars for over 55 years,” said Foyt. “I’ve had so many good memories, and some not-so-good, but I wouldn’t trade any of it.”
Winning has been the hallmark of Foyt’s career: winning in Indy cars, NASCAR, USAC stock cars, midgets, sprints, IMSA sports cars and of course, Le Mans. He won 14 national titles and 172 major races in his driving career, which spanned four decades and three continents: North America, Europe and Australia. He has won in five countries—U.S.A., France, New Zealand, Canada, Great Britain—and in 15 of the 19 states in which he competed as a driver.
Yet it was through his adversities that A.J.’s qualities burned brightest. His determination and toughness set him apart from his competition and led to a career that made him auto racing’s most inspiring champion.
Over the years, Foyt proved he was physically and mentally tough. The equipment used at that time did not have the safety features of today’s cars and gear. Foyt battled back from career-threatening accidents to race—and win--again.
He has broken his back, sustained burns on his face and hands and even been run over by his own race car breaking his leg! It didn’t stop there. He nearly lost his right arm in 1981 and, in 1990, he nearly lost a leg--he still limps from the effects of his crash at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.
“I knew people wanted me to retire, heck my own family wanted me to,” he said. “But I didn’t want to go out on crutches. I was determined to walk to my race car without crutches.”
At 56, Foyt limped to his car, without crutches, and qualified second for the 1991 Indianapolis 500! He was eliminated early when debris from another accident broke his car’s suspension but not before he had shown his own brand of toughness before 400,000 race fans.
After competing in his 35th straight 500 in 1992 (finished 9th), he retired from driving Indy cars in 1993 on Pole Day (May 15) at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. His decision was abrupt as it was final.
“When I won Indy the first time back in ‘61, I had a chance to meet Ray Harroun who won the first Indy in 1911. I asked him when he knew when to quit. He said, ‘It’ll come to you, you’ll just know.’ And he was right.”
Throughout his storied career, Foyt has defied the odds to emerge triumphant. His accolades include being named the Driver of the Year in 1975, inaugural inductions into the National Motorsports Hall of Fame (Novi, Mich.), the Sprint Car Hall of Fame, and the Miami Project/Sports Legend in Auto Racing (1986). He won the American Sportscasters Association Sports Legend Award in 1993. He was named to NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers and voted Driver of the Century by a panel of experts and the Associated Press. In 2000, he was named to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and more recently, he was voted into the North Carolina Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
As a team owner, Foyt has won the national Indy car title five times: 1967, 1975, 1979, 1996 (with driver Scott Sharp) and 1998 (with driver Kenny Brack). It was also with Brack that Foyt won the 1999 Indy 500 for his fifth visit to the Brickyard’s victory circle.
As Foyt campaigns throughout the 2013 season, he and his ABC Supply Racing team will be working hard to add yet another milestone to a career defined by them.