By A.J. Foyt
The IZOD IndyCar Series opens its season next weekend with the Honda Grand Prix in St. Petersburg, Florida. For me that means my 55th season in Indy car racing. I find it hard to believe. When I first started driving back in the early 50’s, a lot of people didn’t think I would make it past 22! Well, I’m 76 now and still racing. And I still get excited at the start of every season.
We’re going to have a new look for the No. 14 ABC Supply car this year—it’s still red, white and blue but it looks pretty sharp. We’ve had a lot of really positive comments about how beautiful it looks. I like it because it shows up so much better on the track. ABC Supply’s designers came up with a scheme that looks like my 1961 car with which I won my first Indy 500—50 years ago! Now if I could get that Honda-powered Dallara to win like my Offy-powered roadster did, we’d be looking really good.
We had a busy off-season. We changed some of the systems on the car that I think will help us everywhere we go. We liked the way things worked when we tested in February and earlier this month. We also changed some personnel but the key positions of driver, engineer and crew chief haven’t changed. This will be the first time in a few years that I’ve had the same driver and engineer for two seasons in a row.
Working with Vitor Meira and our engineer Jeff Britton all last year gave us the chance to build some chemistry—we got to know each other better. We’ll be stronger everywhere we go because of that. We had hoped to get sponsorship for a second car but that hasn’t worked out—yet. It would be an advantage to have a two-car team but if I don’t have the proper funding, I’m not going to do it.
The INDYCAR officials have been very busy in the off season, including changing their name from Indy Racing League to just INDYCAR (all caps even though it doesn’t stand for anything). CEO Randy Bernard is a pretty energetic guy. He has a lot of ideas and he’s managed to get quite a few of them underway. The most interesting one to me is that $5 million to win in the finale at Las Vegas! I’d have to lose between 75-85 lbs to drive in it so that’s probably not going to happen--although I am trying to lose weight this season. But getting back to Vegas, I can hire someone to drive a second car and I am seriously looking into that.
The other changes that INDYCAR is starting this season are double-file restarts and limiting the field to 26 cars, not counting the Indianapolis 500. I think both changes will make a better show for the spectators.
Actually, the double-file restarts will be great for the spectators even if it won’t be so great for the teams. I can’t say for sure but I think the crash damage bill will go up this year. The veterans will have an advantage because they’ll know what to do in most situations, but it’s going to be tough for the rookies. There is so much they don’t know: the cars, the drivers or stuff like how dirty the track gets as the race goes on. And then there are the wild drivers—they’d make double file restarts when they were supposed to be single file! It should be very interesting.
Limiting the field to 26 cars is not something new—we used to have limits on the fields when I was driving. Heck, when I started driving only the top 18 made the race! Now that was tough and it was hard but it also meant you were racing against the best of the best. It upped your game. If INDYCAR dropped the fields down to 18 or 20, it’d make qualifying a helluva lot more exciting and really separate the men from the boys.
Thinking back on the old days, I wouldn’t mind seeing the series return to the time when you practiced, qualified and raced all in the same day! Talk about cutting expenses! It would cut travel costs but also the car expenses because you wouldn’t have a lot of time to experiment. I think you’d see a lot of different people winning races. But I guess those days are long gone.
I hope you’ll tune in on Sunday, March 27 to ABC-TV. The race will be shown live starting at 12:30p.m.