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.
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.
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.
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.
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.