Kicking off A.J. Foyt birthday week: His four ‘500’ wins

Published On January 12, 2015 » 3954 Views» By John Schwarb » Blogs, IMS, IMS History, Indy 500

Happy early birthday, Super Tex!

A.J. Foyt turns 80 on Friday and we’re going to celebrate his one-of-a-kind career all week here on The Blog, plus on IndyCar.com and the IndyCar app.

Foyt, of course, won all over the world from LeMans to Daytona, in all kinds of cars, but his four victories at the Indianapolis 500 are the hallmark from five decades in racing.

Here’s a look at each of the wins, with some bits of trivia:

Bricks still covered a big part of the front straight when A.J. Foyt won for the first time at Indianapolis in 1961.

Bricks still covered a big part of the front straight when A.J. Foyt won for the first time at Indianapolis in 1961.

How enduring is Foyt’s legacy at Indianapolis? The 2.5-mile oval still had a long stretch of bricks on the front straight when he won his first “500” in 1961. The remaining bricks (with the exception of a one-yard strip at the start/finish line) were covered with asphalt in October 1961.

The ’61 race was Foyt’s fourth at Indy, he had not led a lap in his previous three starts. He led 71 laps including the final three – the latest move to the front since Joe Dawson took the lead with two laps to go at the second “500” in 1912.

Front-engine cars weren't done quite yet after 1964, but none ever won after Foyt's.

Front-engine cars weren’t done quite yet after 1964, but none ever won after Foyt’s.

Foyt’s second win in 1964, in the Sheraton-Thompson Offy-powered car built by A.J. Watson, was the last “500” win for a front-engine roadster. Foyt is the only driver to win at Indianapolis in front- and rear-engine cars, with two wins in each.

Foyt led more laps (146) than in his other three wins combined (144), taking the point for good on Lap 55. No driver since has had such a long lead run to the checkered flag.

Louis Meyer, the first three-time winner of the "500", posed with Foyt after he joined the club in 1967.

Louis Meyer, the first three-time winner of the “500”, posed with Foyt after he joined the club in 1967.

Most fans know Foyt as the pilot of No. 14s over the years, but he didn’t take that number to victory at Indianapolis until his third win in 1967. As IMS historian Donald Davidson explained, this was an era where numbers were based on previous year’s National Championship ranking and Foyt was coming off a poor 1966 (he was first in 1960 and 1963, driving the No. 1 to his Indy wins in ’61 and ’64), hence the assigned No. 14. But Bill Vukovich had won the “500” with the number twice, so A.J. was good with it.

A $6 part played a major part in Foyt’s win – a ball bearing that failed on Parnelli Jones’ STP Turbocar, sending him to the pits with a broken transmission on Lap 197. He had led 171 laps to that point in the groundbreaking turbine-engine car. Foyt took the lead and won as the only car credited with completing the entire race distance. That’s only happened twice since, with Rick Mears in 1984 and Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989.

After a decade of trying, Foyt finally got win No. 4 in 1977. It was another 10 years until his feat was matched.

After a decade of trying, Foyt finally got win No. 4 in 1977. It was another 10 years until his feat was matched.

To put a bow on Foyt’s wins corresponding with IMS history (see 1961), Foyt’s fourth victory in 1977 coincided with Janet Guthrie becoming the first woman to race in the “500.” It was also IMS owner Tony Hulman’s last race, as he died in October 1977.

Foyt’s historic fourth (he was the only four-time winner for a decade, until Al Unser got his fourth in ’87) came from the fourth qualifying position, just like his third win. He won four pole positions (only fellow four-time champion Rick Mears has more, with six) and started on the front row four other times, but never won from those spots.

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About The Author

John Schwarb

I joined the Indianapolis Motor Speedway communications team in July 2014 and love sharing stories from the World Capital of Racing, particularly its rich history. Most of my professional career has been in racing or golf, so if I'm not in the IMS media center, the office at 16th and Georgetown or milling around Gasoline Alley, maybe I'll be standing over a birdie putt at Brickyard Crossing. Follow us at @IMS or drop me a line at @JohnSchwarb and come back to the blog often for more stories.
4 comments
ChrisBlackwell
ChrisBlackwell

Happy Birthday to A.J. Foyt and congratulations on completing his 80th lap of the Sun!


Since this blog is about A.J.'s four wins, I thought I might put my two cents in.  Years ago, I discovered that if you divide his victories into pairs, such as the first two and the last two, a remarkable number of coincidences appear.  This chart will show you what I mean:


                                                               1961/1964                                             1967/1977

Car Number                                                    1                                                           14

Car Type                                                Front-Engine                                       Rear-Engine

Engine                                                    Offenhauser                                          Ford(Foyt)

Tires                                                          Firestone                                             Goodyear

Chief Mechanic                                    George Bignotti                                      Tony Foyt

Pace Car Make                                             Ford                                              GM (Chevy/Olds)


And, as a final irony, the piece de resistance--all five times this staunch red-stater has gone to Victory Lane (including with Kenny Brack in 1999), a Democrat was living in the White House.  I kid you not.  You can look it up!

DonaldABarr
DonaldABarr

AJ will always be the best winner of the 500 for me.  He won in the roadsters which required a driver to muscle them around the track, and then rear engine cars of his design which still required a driver to handle them.  Much different from the aerodynamic wonders of today that practically drive themselves.  Happy Birthday AJ.

ThomasKing2
ThomasKing2

Yes Foyt has had an illustrious career, however I think you are selling today's drivers short in their ability. Driving any car at racing speeds takes a very special individual and more so at Indianapolis. Foyts wins are no more special than the fact he has four of them and I'm quite sure he is very thankful that he isn't lapping at over 220 as the drivers are today.

ChrisBlackwell
ChrisBlackwell

@ThomasKing2  He did lap at over 220 in qualifying for his final starts in the early 90s.  In fact, his qualifying speeds through the years went from a low of 142 mph in 1959 to 222 in 1992.  That's an 80 mph spread, the largest of any driver ever to run at the Brickyard.