Ask Donald Davidson: Foyt vs. Lion at Du Quoin, Ill.

Published On October 14, 2014 » 5093 Views» By Donald Davidson » Ask Donald Davidson, Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

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A lion jumping on A.J. Foyt's back was a planned stunt ...

A lion jumping on A.J. Foyt’s back was a planned stunt …

... and Foyt, being Foyt, wrestled the lion briefly before thinking better of it.

… and Foyt, being Foyt, wrestled the lion briefly before thinking better of it.

I have seen photographs and movies of A.J. Foyt wrestling with a lion at Du Quoin one year. What was that all about? – Cara C., Indianapolis

The year was 1969, back in the days when Du Quoin, Illinois, would have three days of USAC racing over Labor Day weekend on the beautiful one-mile dirt track at the privately-owned fairgrounds. The Hambletonian trotting race would have been conducted earlier in the week, and leading performers like Bob Hope, the Carpenters, Boots Randolph and Peter Nero would appear in variety shows on the stage at night. I remember the lion incident quite well because I was down there to do the public address for the USAC races. Sometime between qualifying and the main event for either the Sunday stock car race or Monday’s championship event, there was a murmur from the crowd as Foyt was seen walking though the large expanse of the meadow-like infield (to which the public did not have access) with this lion coming up behind him! It was on a leash and obviously all a setup, the trainer having told Foyt to just walk ahead of them. The lion would then jump up on Foyt’s back and wrestle him to the ground. I was personally  always amused by the film footage and some of the photos because one can see Foyt’s ultra-competitive spirit coming out as he momentarily tries to wrestle the lion back until realizing it is more than even he can handle.

What was the last year the “500” was run entirely on a brick surface and how many times has it been resurfaced since then? – Larry Hunt, via Facebook

The last year for the “500” to be run entirely on an all-brick surface was 1935. The answer to the second part is a little more complicated because the application of asphalt began merely with selected patching to some of the bone-jarring gouges which had developed in the turns. It was decided in 1937 to completely resurface the turns (only), followed in 1939 by the backstretch. Approximately 700 yards of the main straight then remained exposed until October 1961, but with a number of patching jobs performed on the asphalt portions throughout the 1950s and 1960s. It was not until the summer of 1976 that the entire track was completely resurfaced from start/finish line to start/finish line, three complete resurfacings having taken place since then, in 1989, 1995, and in late 2004, followed by the “diamond-grinding” process in the spring of 2005.

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Donald Davidson

Indianapolis Motor Speedway Historian Donald Davidson, based at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, developed a passionate interest in the Indianapolis 500 as a teenager in England. Arriving at IMS in 1964, he delighted the racing community with his ability to recite year-by-year accounts of participants’ careers. Returning permanently in 1965, he was invited by Sid Collins to join the worldwide IMS Radio Network and was hired by Henry Banks as USAC statistician, remaining at USAC for almost 32 years. He was named Indianapolis Motor Speedway historian in 1998. Along with numerous television and radio assignments, raconteur Davidson has played host to the popular call-in radio show “The Talk of Gasoline Alley” on 1070 AM in Indianapolis during the month of May continuously since 1971. His writing credits include countless historical articles and columns, a pair of “500” annuals in 1974 and ‘75 and co-authorship with Rick Shaffer of the acclaimed “Autocourse Official History of the Indianapolis 500,” published in 2006.
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