Sometimes, less is more.
That’s the approach taken this season by Larry Foyt, president of AJ Foyt Racing, who is making the adjustment to life off the timing stand as a race strategist since the start of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series season.
The transition is due in part to the offseason addition Scott Harner, the former longtime co-team manager at Chip Ganassi Racing. Harner was named vice president of operations at AJ Foyt Racing in February and reunited with Tony Kanaan to call strategy for the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet.
Until this season’s opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, Foyt, son of team namesake and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, had been a key voice atop the team timing stand dating back roughly a decade.
“It was different, but it's good, too,” Larry Foyt said of his shift away from calling race strategy, most recently for Matheus Leist for the youngster’s rookie season last year in the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevy.
“I really felt like last year I knew really well about Matheus' season, but I just didn't know much about Tony's season. Now, just being off the stand, listening to Tony debrief and listening to him with how he talks with his engineer and listening to Matheus, it's just nice to get me a big broader (understanding).”
The change has allowed Foyt time to become more heavily involved with other race weekend responsibilities.
“I was able to be with the sponsors a little bit more in the pits and just talking with them and keeping them up to date with what's going on,” he said. But he admitted the longing remains to climb onto the timing stand and don the headset to speak with his driver.
“I certainly missed it,” he said. “I definitely missed it. You also don't want to be a Monday morning quarterback and tell the other guys what to do because that's an easy thing to sit back and do, but I've got to a lot of trust in Scott and George (Klotz, Leist’s strategist) there. They've been doing this for a long time.”
Foyt is still an active participant in engineering debriefs and race strategy meetings throughout the weekend. But he’s also focused on managing people and putting them in the best position to do their jobs for the team A.J. Foyt has owned since 1966.
“As we grow as a race team, more and more of my time is spent on sponsorship type of stuff and financial stuff in the office,” Larry Foyt said. “That certainly keeps me busy because just as INDYCAR is growing as a whole, all the teams are growing and constantly adding people. This business and the one thing I have learned in the 10-ish years that I've been involved with the Indy car side, it's a people game.
“We can all buy the same parts from Dallara, but it's the people that make these cars go fast. So that's just what we're trying to do is, every time we can, add to our team and add to our core group. That's why when Scott became available, it was a no-brainer – someone who's coming from great experience and knows how to win championships and that's great. It's allowing me to step back a little bit, but bringing in the best people is what I feel like my job is.”
Admittedly, the progress has been methodical, painful at times, but Foyt feels the team is quietly inching closer toward the front. Evidence came when Kanaan put in a dazzling performance to charge from the last starting position in the 24-car field to finish a respectable 12th in the inaugural INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas on March 24.
“It's so close right now that two- or three-tenths (of a second) really makes you from decent to being toward the tail end of the grid, and that's tough,” Foyt said. “That’s super tough. But having the same drivers, we're continuing to grow.
“A.J. has really been great to help us and let us grow. And the consistency with ABC Supply has been great and it's helped us grow, but we're still against some pretty big companies out there and some pretty big race teams. Will we get there? Absolutely, I think we will. I do feel like we're headed in the right direction.”
The biggest race circled on the team’s calendar is the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 26. A.J. Foyt may have won more races at more tracks than anyone in Indy car history, but the boss is adamant that the Indy 500 supersedes them all.
And there is confidence going into it after Leist finished 13th last year as a rookie, while Kanaan led 19 laps and was headed for a strong finish until a crash just 13 laps from the end.
“I think INDYCAR’s platform made it where we definitely feel like at Indianapolis we have a chance to win the race, no doubt,” Foyt said. “And if everything fell right for us on a normal weekend, we think we can win a race.
“I think we're headed the right direction; it's just not easy. It's a tough field out there."
The NTT IndyCar Series returns to action this week with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. A pair of practices are scheduled for Friday (12:15 and 3:50 p.m. ET) and a third on Saturday (11:45 a.m.). INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold livestreams all practices.
NTT P1 Award qualifying starts at 4 p.m. Saturday and airs live on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold. Coverage of Sunday’s 90-lap race from Barber Motorsports Park begins at 4 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
RaceControl.IndyCar.com is your home for live timing and scoring accompanied by Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network commentary for every weekend session. It is also available through the INDYCAR Mobile app powered by NTT DATA, which also includes select in-car cameras during the race and in-car radios for all drivers. INDYCAR Mobile is available free worldwide and may be downloaded to smartphones by clicking here.