Indy superstars: A.J. Foyt

Indycar Racing News

A.J. Foyt cemented his place in motor racing history in 1977, when he became the first man to win the Indianapolis 500 four times. Foyt scored his first three Indy wins between 1961 and 1967, but it took another 10 years before he made history by winning his fourth 500. When he finally pulled it off he did it with his own team, cars and engines – a remarkably rare accomplishment unlikely to be repeated in modern motor racing.

Foyt enjoys an all-time record 67 USAC Indy car wins and a record seven USAC championships. He also won seven NASCAR races, including the 1972 Daytona 500, and won the 1967 Le Mans 24 Hours with Dan Gurney and Ford. In a Porsche 935 he took two Daytona 24 Hours victories in 1983 and ’85 and also the ’85 Sebring 12 Hours.

“1967 The greatest race” by Nigel Roebuck (July 2013)

After making a name for himself in midgets and sprint cars, Foyt made his first USAC championship start in the summer of 1957 when he was 22 years old. In 1958 he replaced the great Jimmy Bryan in the Dean Van Lines team and ran the next two seasons with Al Dean’s team, collecting a couple of seconds and thirds in dirt track races.

For the 1960 season Foyt moved to the Bowes Seal Fast team where George Bignotti was chief mechanic. A.J. came on strong in the year’s second half, winning four 100-mile dirt track races aboard the team’s Meskowski-Offy dirt car and was able to beat Rodger Ward to the first of his seven USAC championships.

“The big chief and his Indyans” David Malsher catches up with George Bignotti (November 2004)

The first Indy 500 victory came the following year aboard Bignotti’s Watson/Trevis-Offy roadster after a famous battle with Eddie Sachs. Late in the race, Foyt appeared to have beaten Sachs but his fuel rig had malfunctioned on his third and planned final stop, failing to deliver a full load, causing Foyt to make a fourth stop for fuel. But with three laps to go leader Sachs – inexplicably to some – came into the pits to change a badly worn front tyre, and Foyt scored his first win in the 500.

He also beat Sachs to his second USAC championship that year but Foyt and Bignotti argued about car set-up and Foyt quit in August of ’62, jumping to Lindsey Hopkins’ team. By the end of the year he was back with Bignotti before deciding to race his own cars with the help of his father Tony Sr. and chief mechanic Jack Starne.

Foyt won the title again in 1963 and ‘64, was second to Mario Andretti in ‘65, and took his fifth championship in ‘67. He won the Indy 500 a second time in 1964 in what turned out to be the last win for a front-engined roadster, then scored his third 500 victory in 1967 aboard his own Lotus-based rear-engine car called a Coyote after Parnelli Jones’s STP turbine retired in the closing laps.

After his third win at Indy in 1967, Foyt encountered a long fallow period at the Speedway. Bob Riley designed a new Coyote in 1973 and with his own turbocharged Foyt/Ford V8s, A.J. was on the pole at Indianapolis in 1974 and ‘75. He won seven races and took his sixth USAC championship in ’75 and finally scored his fourth Indy victory in 1977.

“Winning Coyote” AJ Foyt tells Gordon Kirby why those days were the greatest (April 2007)

In those days Indy cars raced with unlimited turbo boost and as much as 1,000 bhp, restricted only by fuel mileage. They were the world’s most demanding cars to drive. “You had a lot of power and not nearly the downforce you have now, but still you qualified at over 200 mph,” Foyt observes. “People don’t realise today what it was like. These boys today don’t know how hard those cars were to drive. You didn’t have near the equipment they have today but you were running almost as fast.”

A.J. broke his back in a stock car at Riverside in 1965 and badly broke his legs in an accident in an Indy car at Elkhart Lake in 1991. He came back to race at Indianapolis one more time in 1992 before retiring at the ripe old age of 59.

“America’s all action hero” Joe Scalzo argues Foyt is a true great (July 2013)

You can cast your vote for A.J. in the Motor Sport Hall of Fame US Racing category here.

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