100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500
By A.J. Foyt
At Indy, if it’s your day, it’s your day.
I’ve said that forever because I’ve won some races I probably shouldn’t have and I’ve lost some races I should have won.
That saying was proved once again with the wild finish of the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500. The leader—a rookie--crashed in turn four coming down for the checkered and handed over the Borg Warner trophy to Dan Wheldon who won his second Indy 500 in an Indy-only ride. Congratulations to Wheldon and the Bryan Herta Autosport team because it was definitely their day.
Not so for Vitor Meira and my ABC Supply team although when we started out I thought it could be since we had our best starting spot since 2001. During the first round of pit stops, the crew made quick work of it and Vitor picked up three spots to come out eighth. Our airjack man Randy Baden was hit by Will Power’s lost wheel during that stop but he wasn’t hurt! Things were looking good.
It was the next stop that set in motion a chain of events that our team never recovered from. We were planning to pit when the yellow came out on lap 62. We stayed out because the pits were closed but came in the next lap for a splash of fuel. The engine stalled and it was hard to restart so we lost time and track position.
Vitor rejoined the field in 16th. When he came in for his full stop a couple laps later, Ed Carpenter was trying to leave his pitbox as Vitor was entering his. They avoided contact but Vitor’s car was angled wrong so it had to be pushed back before he could take off. That put him down another two positions so he was 18th for the lap 70 restart.
Vitor was sitting 12th after pitting under yellow on lap 103. But that was when we made the decision to take some downforce out because he was losing so much straight-line speed. In hindsight it was a bad decision because the car became too loose; he was holding on (during the longest green flag stint of the race) until we could put the downforce back in on the next stop, which if course happened under green.
Vitor had lost so much track position during the green flag run that when he pitted on lap 137, he went a lap down. We stayed out during the caution that followed 10 laps later hoping to get our lap back but the leader never pitted so we didn’t get a wave around. The car was working better though – he ran his fastest speed on lap 175 but we couldn’t take advantage of it. He finished 15th.
Meanwhile, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who was driving my other entry, the No. 41 ABC Supply/DHL/Sun Drop car, was being run by his regular Andretti Autosport crew and race engineer. He fought a loose race car all day and finished 23rd.
It didn’t work out like I thought it would but we gained a spot in the points for Vitor and it was the first time since 2007 that we finished the race with both cars intact. In this sport, you have to find that silver lining.
All in all, the 100th Anniversary Indy 500 turned out to be a great one for the Speedway. There was something for everyone between the Hot Wheels Thrill Ride for the kids to the vintage race car parade for the old timers. There were people everywhere. You could feel the excitement in the air and in the race itself.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so busy on race day even when I was driving myself! Between interviews, meet and greets, doing several different parade laps around the track, being part of driver introductions and then finally driving the Chevy Camaro pace car, I was ready to get on my pitbox.
The race got underway without a hitch—although they started a lot earlier on the track than where they were supposed to. I barely got off the track in time—despite all the joking, I had no intention of trying to lead that first lap! I think the drivers got the flying start line mixed up with the one for the double file restarts—which, by the way, came off without any of the problems the drivers predicted. It was a good day for the Speedway.
When I did finally climb onto the pit box to join my son Larry and engineer Jeff Britton, I was thinking this could be our day.
Instead I was reminded that, at Indy, when it’s not your day, it’s not your day.
Indy 500 Qualifying
By A.J. Foyt
The Indianapolis 500 is the most important race in the world to me—ask anyone on my ABC Supply team. And it has been ever since I was a little kid when I used to listen to it on the radio—way before they had TV.
Since 1958, I have been a part of the race as either a driver or a team owner, or both. I’ve been fortunate enough to win it four times as a driver, and once as just an owner when Kenny Brack won in 1999.
So when the Speedway asked me to drive the Chevy Camaro pace car for this 100th Anniversary race, I was honored. I knew I was replacing their original choice Donald Trump and it didn’t matter to me. There’s been many a race where I was running second and ended up winning. Having Mari George ride around with me in the pace car will bring back some great memories because it was her dad Tony Hulman who took his final ride in the pace car with me after I won in 1977. I was so happy that day and so was he. The fact that he passed on that October made it all the more special for me.
Things are going good this year after a few years when things didn’t go so well for our team. It’s the best month we’ve had at this track in a while. With one of the toughest fields in 20 years, Vitor Meira qualified the No. 14 ABC Supply car in 11th spot on Pole Day. Bruno Junqueira qualified our second car twice after being bumped from the field and bumping back in to qualify the no. 41 ABC Supply car in 19th position.
We were happy to have both cars solidly in the field. I was proud of my ABC Supply team and the way it performed on Pole Day -- the result of a lot of hard work over the winter by my crew and chief engineer Jeff Britton. That Vitor out-qualified some heavy hitters made it even sweeter. I should say bittersweet because for the first time in my career, I didn’t see Tom Carnegie, or hear his incredible voice. Tom passed away earlier this year. He always used to stop by my garage or I’d talk to him at the announcer’s stand. I knew he was sick but I was really hoping he could hang in for the 100th.
Believe it or not, I wasn’t part of Bump Day at the Speedway! I’ve been there before and it is not fun. This time the Andretti Autosport team was the center of Bump Day attention because they only had one of their five cars in the field after Pole Day. Michael Andretti had a helluva Bump Day because when that gun sounded at 6 o’clock, two of those four cars were still on the outside looking in, including one involving a former driver of mine, Ryan Hunter-Reay.
When Michael came to me to ask about putting Ryan in the 41 car Sunday night, I told him I had to think about it. I knew they were in a tough situation because they had new sponsors this year and to miss the 500, well that’s devastating.
Losing your ride to another driver is also devastating but Larry spoke to Bruno on Monday morning and he understood. I met with Michael’s team later in the day and we agreed on a plan. There was space on the 41 car for his sponsors and it was important to the sponsors to have Ryan driving the car.
I know it wasn’t a popular decision with the fans or the media. And saying it was a business decision doesn’t make it any easier for them to swallow. I understand that. What they don’t understand are the real costs of racing today. These race cars don’t cost $25,000 like they did when I started racing.
Finding sponsors—and keeping them—is hard to do especially in these hard economic times. When you do get a sponsor, you do all you can to make them happy that they signed with your team and signed with your sport.
Sure it didn’t involve my team this time around but I was in a position to help a fellow team owner keep his sponsors happy. Michael Andretti puts four cars on the track every single race! They got caught out at Indy—it can happen to anyone. It almost happened to us in 1994 when I had one car in the race with a rookie sweating out the final minutes on Bump Day.
I’ve been fortunate that my major sponsors always made the race but that doesn’t mean I don’t understand what Michael’s going through. I’m taking a lot of criticism for doing a deal that bumps Bruno out of the seat. I’ve made him a folk hero—he’s getting more publicity for not having a ride then he did when he had a ride. But I won’t forget what he did.
People forget the days—not so long ago—when I rolled out extra cars just so there would be a 33-car starting field for the 500! If we don’t take care of the sponsors, people will see how quickly Indy 500 qualifying changes back to trying to fill the field because there aren’t enough sponsored teams to support the race. I don’t want to see that and I’m sure the fans don’t either.
This is the most important race in the world and it is filled with traditions that make it unique and special beyond any other race. But you can’t run these cars on tradition alone. That is the reality.
I wish it wasn’t so. And I know of at least two drivers and a fellow team owner who feel the same way.