Get Well Soon, AJ Foyt!

This past Friday, legendary driver AJ Foyt was admitted to the hospital with sporadic chest pain. The initial tests showed very little, but a procedure this past Monday showed blockages in arteries that had given Foyt problems in recent years. On Wednesday, he underwent triple bypass surgery. At last report, the fiery Texan was doing well and was expected to be released by Monday.

Social Media was ablaze with Foyt jokes by early Wednesday evening. One good friend of mine cracked that there was a rumor AJ had performed the surgery himself. I, myself, made a joke that he would be out by Monday and roping cattle that afternoon.

It’s good that the reports were good and that we could make jokes. You’ve got to have a sense of humor when dealing with tough subjects.

But underneath all the jokes is the realization that this was a scare. We were reminded that contrary to what all of the joking may tell us – AJ Foyt will not live forever.

Some will consider this post to be in poor taste, as if I’m writing an obituary for the living. That is not my intent. Instead, it is to draw attention to the obvious, so that no one will take this icon for granted.

I’m lucky enough that I saw AJ Foyt race in his prime. I was present at the 1967 race where Foyt won his third Indianapolis 500. I saw, first-hand, what a dominating racer he was. Robin Miller wrote an article not long ago about Foyt’s magical 1964 season, where he won ten out of thirteen races including the Indianapolis 500. Being the first four-time winner at Indianapolis, winning the Daytona 500 and Le Mans along with an all-time leading sixty-seven Indy car wins – AJ Foyt’s success was no fluke. He was that good, and I maintain that he is the greatest driver to ever strap on a helmet. Fans of Bill Vukovich and Mario Andretti may have something to say about that, but they’ll never convince me otherwise.

As his career wound down, he stopped winning and was rarely seen near the front. Qualifying in the middle of the front-row of the 1991 Indianapolis 500 after devastating injuries just nine-months earlier, was his last great achievement. Foyt starting the race with pole-sitter Rick Mears on one side and Mario Andretti on the other was about as good as it gets for someone that grew up following this sport.

After he stepped out of the cockpit for good on the morning of qualifying for the 1993 race, Foyt became an easy target as a punch line for younger fans. His weight has always been an issue, as was his foulmouthed temper and his teams nearly always under-performed. In the early days of the IRL, Foyt won against lesser competition. He won the 1996 and 1998 IRL championships along with the 1999 Indianapolis 500 with Kenny Bräck as his driver. Unfortunately, what many remember the most from recent years is when Foyt slapped Arie Luyendyk upside the head in 1997 at Texas, before knocking him over some ill-placed shrubbery. They seem to remember that and his brutality toward a laptop in the 1998 Indianapolis 500, more than his accomplishments behind the wheel.

Much like the great Jim Hurtubise, younger fans seem to remember Foyt for his comic relief and one-liners more than his driving skills in the sixties.

By the time I heard the news about Foyt’s heart surgery on  Wednesday, the reports were already good. I didn’t get a chance to worry. But it left me with a sober reminder that, like all of us – his day will come.

The old die-hards like myself know what we got to witness with AJ Foyt in the sixties. When my older brother read the Robin Miller article, he told me that 1964 was the year he really started following racing closely. He didn’t appreciate Foyt’s accomplishments then because as a fourteen year-old, he figured that someone did that every year. It wasn’t until he got much older that he learned to appreciate what he had gotten to see.

My hope is that young fans will learn to appreciate what AJ Foyt was and still is, before his time on earth is done. My fear is that once he’s gone, younger fans will say “Gosh, I didn’t know he did all that”.

Our sensationalistic world we live in dictates that we use words like “amazing”, “awesome”, “hero” and “legend” if we want to get anyone’s attention. I try to shy away from those words, but in the case of AJ Foyt, these words all apply. If there was ever a true example of a living legend – it’s AJ Foyt.

It appears that Foyt is out of the woods for now. I’m assuming he will be fully recovered in time for his eightieth birthday this coming January and will be back at IMS this May. If you are there during practice, qualifying or for the race – take it all in when you see him zipping through on a golf cart or hobbling through the garage area. This May will be his fifty-eighth consecutive May at IMS. A lot has changed since his first race in 1958. He has been a constant throughout all of that change. Appreciate him while you can.

Get well soon, AJ!

George Phillips

16 Responses to “Get Well Soon, AJ Foyt!”

  1. Mr Foyt has had a remarkable career, he is indeed a legend of motor racing on a whole (less F1 champ title) and it is good to see that he has apparently dodged the bullet in this case.

  2. Dave from Mukwonago Says:

    Well done George

  3. A.J. is a true one of a kind. He is almost like a walking, talking IMS /open wheel history book if people would just take the time to study him. A. J. is one of those guys that will leave an impact so big on the sport, that unfortunately no one will fully realize it until after he is gone. In this world of social media and young fans chiming in about the state of the sport I always welcome and will listen to Foyt’s take on the situation.

    There we go: A.J. Foyt could do a 1/2 hour show on NBCSP called “Foyt’s Take” on the weeks motorsports events, or , commentary/opinion in general. Can you imagine how entertaining that would be?

  4. Perhaps one of the greatest races I ever saw was AJ and Herk on the dirt in sprinters at Terre Haute. Herk was running down low and AJ was rim riding, they exchanged the lead at least twice a lap for the whole race. I don’t remember who won but what a show. AJ could drive them all and win in everything.

  5. Watching him race in person and listening to him now, that never gets old. You would pretty much expect his recovery to be speedy. We will be looking forward to seeing you at the track A.J.

    Rumor has it that A.J. has Caterpillar building an aerokit for his bulldozer.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    That Foyt has continued to field a team since his retirement has been a real positive for Indycar. A positive the sport has perhaps not taken full advantage of, but a positive worth noting nevertheless.

    It is great when former drivers can get into team ownership, because it keeps the sport’s history right at the track. Former players in other sports can and do remain involved in their sports as well, but it never seems to match the meeting of past and present that we see in racing with Foyt, Andretti and Rahal… or even with Herta, Vasser, Coyne, and Ganassi.

    I wish Mr. Foyt a speedy recovery. After all, what other kind of recovery could AJ Foyt possibly have.

  7. Foyt is to US open wheel like Niki Lauda or Alain Prost are to F1 – a living legend and multiple champion. Good to hear he’s doing a lot better now. Here’s to a full recovery!

  8. I am so glad you wrote this wonderful tribute to AJ Foyt. I am a child and grandchild of heart patients, so was more than a little worried when I read he had bypass surgery this week. He is such a trooper and I hope will heal very quickly.

    I wish I was more familiar on a first hand basis with AJ’s accomplishments, but my dad wasn’t a racing fan. So we never attended races, even though I could hear Ascot Park in the distance. What a loss for me!!

    I totally agree with Billy about AJ’s substantial support of IndyCar over the years as an owner. I salute him! Get back to us soon.

  9. James T Suel Says:

    Thanks for that bit on A J I am one of the lucky. Ones as I’ve watched Indy and champ cars since 1960 including every 500 since 1960. I am also that rarest of breed I also am a Mario fan.

  10. AJ is an icon and the joy for me is that he has been my guy since I was a youngster. My family has been an AJ family from the start and before my mother passed we celebrated Kenny Brack’s win in 1999. I hope that Foyt knows that there are families that come together pulling for him and enjoying his career. I can tell you that as I look back on that I couldn’t be happier about being an AJ Foyt family.

    George, whenever you want to talk about and exalt AJ Foyt then please do so. I love nothing more than an AJ story.

  11. I think that bringing the youth of today into the sport with social media is very important AND for them to know the history and speed makers is important as well. Let’s us social media pto connect with them! You can also connect with me, The Lapper, through social media. See Ecclestone doesn’t have a clue.

  12. Bernie doesn’t need to “have a clue” when he is making CVC money hand over fist.

  13. Phil Kaiser Says:

    George, you and I could argue over who is the most passionate AJ fan (remember the photos of my AJ Shrine I sent you last May?) but you forgot the one record AJ has earned that will never be broken: 35 CONSECUTIVE INDIANAPOLIS 500 STARTS! And none from row 11, lol! I repeat, nobody will ever break that record and it’s one of the most impressive sports records that can be attained, especially with the mortality rate in Auto Racing during the ’50s and ’60s! His closest competitor is Mario with 24, but they were not consecutive due to his year off running F1.

    I’m sure it was an oversight on your part which is entirely forgivable, it’s one of those records that seems to get lost in the shuffle but is undoubtedly one of his most important and something I’m sure he is very proud of.

    Thank you George for doing these articles on Mr. Foyt!

    Phil Kaiser

    PS: He also won six of the 10 Hoosier Hundreds (the richest Championship Dirt Car race held annually at the Indiana State Fairgrounds in Indianapolis) in the 1960s; Al Unser is next with four Hoosier Hundred wins from 1970-’73. When AJ won his last one in 1969 (I was there!) he got out of the car and said “When are you all gonna give me the keys to this place!” CLASSIC AJ!

  14. Martine Warot Says:

    I am hoping is still going well for A.J. Foyt….sincerely

  15. […] I wrote a fairly in-depth post on the all-time champion just two months ago when he first went into the hospital. Again, what more […]

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