AJ Foyt Is Finally Moving Forward
The interest of full disclosure would dictate that I get it out up front that I am an AJ Foyt fan. I always have been and always will be. Growing up in the sixties, when people actually followed open-wheel racing – you were either a fan of Mario Andretti or AJ Foyt. You couldn’t like both. That’s like claiming to be a fan of the Bears and the Packers. It’s virtually impossible.
I saw both of their final Indianapolis 500’s. Come to think of it, I was there for Mario’s first “500”, as well.
My entire family was for Foyt, which means we cheered against Mario throughout the sixties. As I got older and watched their careers unfold, I learned to appreciate Mario Andretti’s talents as much as Foyt’s. But as far as the rivalry went, I was a Foyt guy all the way.
Foyt was an owner/driver for years – since 1967, then strictly an owner after he abruptly retired the morning of Pole-Day qualifying in 1993. Mario never went into ownership, but his son sure did. Michael Andretti has put together one of the most successful teams on the grid in today’s Verizon IndyCar Series. Foyt’s teams were never front-runners, unless you count the dark days of the IRL (1996-2000), when they were the big fish in the little pond, winning two titles (Scott Sharp & Kenny Bräck) and the 1999 Indianapolis 500 (Bräck). When Penske, Ganassi, Andretti and Rahal came over from CART, AJ Foyt Racing fell back to where they were in CART in the eighties and early nineties.
Recently, there has been a slight resurgence. With AJ Foyt approaching the age of eighty; his son, Larry, has taken on a much more significant role in recent years. While Larry’s driving skills were never to be confused with AJ’s, he seems more suited to make sound business decisions in running a team than the tempestuous Texan.
I feel quite certain that had it been left up to AJ, Takuma Sato would be long gone from the famous No.14. Foyt doesn’t take kindly to those that tear up equipment. But Larry Foyt has stayed the course and Sato is headed into his third full season with Foyt, which may be a record for recent times. Sato brought Foyt his first win in over a decade, when he won Long Beach in 2013. He had two poles this past season and was having great runs when taken out by bizarre circumstances in more than a couple of races.
Not only is Sato back for 2015, he will now benefit by having a full-time teammate. Last Wednesday, it was confirmed that Jack Hawksworth will run a second full-time Foyt entry. Larry Foyt was successful in getting longtime sponsor ABC Supply to step up and fund a second car, along with extending their partnership through the 2016 season. Except for Target at Chip Ganassi Racing, the Foyt-ABC Supply partnership is the longest running continuing sponsorship program in the IndyCar paddock.
Sato is a veteran who seems to be fearless when charging towards the front. Although his judgment may come into question, no one doubts his skills or bravery. If I were a car-owner, I’d rather have a driver that you need to slow down occasionally instead of one that constantly needs a kick in the pants to get going. I imagine Foyt is the same way.
But a one-car team is constantly hindered in today’s racing world. Larry Foyt is smart enough to recognize that. There is no one to compare data with or to bounce ideas off of. Enter second-year driver Jack Hawksworth. As a rookie, the Brit displayed talent and found speed in a car that was drastically underfunded, while driving for Bryan Herta Autosport. He led much of the Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis before poor timing on a pit stop took him out of contention.
Aside from loving to hear him talk, Jack Hawksworth comes across as a cagy veteran. He seems to be a twenty-three year-old caught in a forty year-old’s body. I like the way he carries himself in front of the camera, but I really like how he handles himself in the car. Although Hawksworth missed the double-points race at Pocono, he still finished higher in points than veterans like Graham Rahal, Sebastian Saavedra and…Takuma Sato. That probably did not go unnoticed by Larry and AJ Foyt.
Not only is AJ Foyt Racing moving into the present by adding a second full-time car to its program; they are also moving to the center of open-wheel racing. Although they are keeping their team headquartered in their Waller, Texas facility; they have purchased a 45,000 square-foot building on Main Street in Speedway, to serve as their “summer’ home probably from May through August. As best I can tell, the location will make it easy for AJ to get his fill of pancakes since it appears to be practically right next door to Charlie Brown’s Pancake & Steak House. For those not familiar with the traditional breakfast landmark that is filled with racing memorabilia – it is pretty much across the street from the Dallara Factory.
Being across the street from Dallara, instead of across the country should be a big help in repairing and preparing cars in the compressed summer schedule. With most of the other teams based in the Indianapolis area, the Texas based team found themselves at a disadvantage in previous years, if there was a specialized need that the cottage industry near the Speedway could have provided. Now they are pretty much on equal footing with the other teams during the compressed summer months, but can still go “home” to Texas if there is an off-weekend.
Am I delusional enough to think this puts AJ Foyt Racing on the same level with Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing that are also based in Indianapolis? No, but I like to think that it helps narrow the gap. When you combine the move to Speedway along with the addition of a second full-time car with an exciting young driver – the Foyt team has made strides during the offseason.
Although the elder Foyt will turn eighty in January, he is still more than a figurehead. Detractors will say he still has too much of a voice in the running of the team that bears his name. I disagree. I think the fact that he is still involved makes it an intriguing team to watch and follow, even though we know that Larry is the one calling most of the shots. But I’ll promise you this – if there’s something that AJ and Larry are bitterly opposed about these days, I think I know who will win the argument. Think about it.