A burger with AJ Foyt

Indycar

As scalps go, they don’t come much bigger than AJ Foyt. He’s been on our ‘Lunch with’ target list for years, but getting to the legendary Texan all-rounder – the man who won in just about everything he sat during a career that spanned five decades – is not easy.

We certainly knew he’d never come to us. Foyt remains the ‘holy grail’ of great names that Lord March wants to lure to Goodwood, but as yet even he hasn’t been able to persuade the four-time Indy 500 winner to catch a plane across the Atlantic. You can bet the Earl won’t give up, but as AJ approaches 80 this February, is in recovery from a recent triple heart bypass operation and carries, ahem, a few more pounds than he once did, the likelihood is becoming ever more remote.

So we knew we’d have to go to him. We usually try to send ‘Lunch with’ writer Simon Taylor across to the US once a year on a sortie to gather a clutch of interviews for the popular series, so I knew we could stretch to the flight. But ol’ AJ doesn’t agree to many interviews, especially with a foreigner he wouldn’t know. We needed a way in.

That’s when Kenny Bräck stepped up. Simon interviewed the Swede, who added a team owner Indy win for AJ back in 1999, a few months ago for an entertaining article that ran in our November issue. Now, as Kenny related, Foyt is a hard man to impress, but somehow the pair hit it off in a way AJ has struggled to replicate with drivers since. Bräck remains Foyt’s favourite from those who have raced for him and they have kept in touch.

So when Simon mentioned that he’d love to interview his old boss, Kenny offered to put in a good word. Sure enough, once he’d convinced AJ that Simon was “a good guy” word came from Houston that an audience would be granted.

Kenny, we owe you one.

You can read the resulting interview in the February edition of the magazine, on sale December 27th. All I can is it was worth the wait and the airfare.

Simon met the legend at his team’s base, west of Houston, and as usual, he offered his subject the choice of venue for lunch. Regular readers will know that usually means a quaint English gastro pub or high-class restaurant in London or Monaco. But on this occasion Simon – who is far from a food snob – found himself in a local Texan burger bar. As you’ll see from Julie Soefer’s brilliant portraits, AJ was right at home and we couldn’t have chosen a more suitable venue to meet this giant of a man – in every sense.

In an issue where we also doff our cap to newly retired Le Mans hero Tom Kristensen, Foyt’s account of how he walked away from racing struck a chord. As a little taster of Simon’s 5500-word article, here’s AJ’s account of those final laps.

“One thing I’m proud of, I never missed an Indy 500, 35 years from 1958 until 1992. And I was there in 1993. I knew I could have a good shot at pole, and I was running over 220mph in practice [at the age of 58!]. Then the yellow came on. It was Robby Gordon in my other car and he’d hit the wall. It was about the third time he’d wrecked. There and then I decided, I can’t have a team and race as well. I came into the pits and got out. Everyone said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m through. It’s over, that’s it.’”

As TK also told us, when it’s time, it’s time. “It is nice that people are asking me why I chose to stop, rather than saying, ‘Why don’t you stop?’” the Dane said at his final race. How to walk away says so much about the qualities of racing legends. Foyt and Kristensen are prime examples of how to do it properly.

Elsewhere in the February issue, we bring you a collection of road trips to Europe’s finest race tracks: Spa, Le Mans, Monza, Monaco and the Nürburgring. Unofficially labelled ‘the travel issue’ in all my planning documents, the stories are a compilation of personal experiences stored up from our lives on the road in 2014. The purpose, as always, is to entertain, but hopefully also to inspire you to take similar trips in 2015. Even if the routes are familiar, we hope our experiences offer some fresh ideas on what to do – and in one particular case what we wouldn’t wish on anyone – on your own trips.

Following Mark Hughes’s comprehensive Formula 1 season review in the January-dated issue (published just six days after the Abu Dhabi season finale), this month our Grand Prix editor meets Christian Horner for a wide-ranging conversation about Red Bull Racing and the sport’s future. His thoughts on Sebastian Vettel’s difficult season and Daniel Ricciardo’s contrastingly impressive one offers great insight, as does his acknowledgement that F1’s form of rule-making and governance is failing at the moment.

The political twists and turns of the past 15 years have led F1 to a structure where the most powerful teams in the sport essentially write the rules for themselves – which doesn’t exactly always ensure the best decisions are taken for the sake of everyone. Or taken at all, for that matter.

“I think there needs to be a revolution,” Horner tells Mark. “The strategy group is making little traction, has been going for 12 months and we’ve argued about the same agenda points at pretty much every meeting. There are different vested interests in the room” – including his own, of course – “and really the only time I guess it will dramatically be affected is when the income drops from the promoter. The promoters have done a great job in increasing the income year on year. Ironically the thing that would drive that change is if the money starts to die. There needs to be a firm hand and the FIA and promoter need to be firmly aligned.”

His further thoughts on where F1 should go next – and his answer to the intriguing question whether he has future ambitions to lead it – are all in the interview.

In the meantime, I’ll sign off for 2014 by wishing all our readers a very happy new year. Thank you for reading, watching, listening and logging on this season past, and we look forward to bringing you more in 2015. We live in strange times and motor sport faces some weighty challenges ahead of it. Then again, hasn’t it always? Uncertainty and doubt is always part of the story.

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