The legendary A.J. Foyt will travel to the final two races of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, having only attended half of the races run so far in 2021.
Indy’s first four-time 500 winner has endured some health issues (heat stroke), but he has been watching the races on TV this season. He answered a few questions about this and other topics.
Question: How is your health these days?
A.J. Foyt: I guess it’s all right. I feel pretty good lately.
Q: Why are you coming to California races?
Foyt: It’s the end of the year, and I want to see what’s going on for myself. I want to be able to evaluate everything.
Q: When was the last time you were at Laguna Seca?
Foyt: Probably the last time was in 1995, my last year in CART. Before that, I raced out there twice and ran second in a Scarab to Bruce McLaren in a sports car race (Oct. 20, 1963). And then I ran an INDYCAR race, but I don’t know where I finished. I might have fell out. (He competed Oct. 16, 1988, on the newly configured course but dropped out after 17 laps with gearbox troubles.)
Q: What did you think of the “Corkscrew” (the downhill Turns 8 and 8a where cars descend nearly six stories in less than 500 feet of track)?
Foyt: It wasn’t that bad, really. You just had to be prepared for it.
Q: Drivers are starting to approach some of your records – like Helio Castroneves joining the four-time “500” winners’ club and Scott Dixon shooting for a seventh title. What do you think about that?
Foyt: Records are made to be broken, and with the equipment they’ve got now, it wouldn’t surprise me to see someone win Indy five or six times. Castroneves really worked hard to win it; he deserved it. Records aren’t going to last forever. But you also have to think about the cars these days. They’re so much better than they were in my day, like the durability of the motors and gearboxes. You didn’t have a button to push to come off (a turn) in fourth, fifth and sixth; you had to manually shift it yourself and use a clutch. Nowadays, you’re just using the throttle and turning the steering wheel, so it’s a lot different driving the cars today. But talking about Dixon, he’s very competitive and he doesn’t get excited. Even if they’re outrunning him, he’s still running the same pace, and that’s what puts him up front usually at the end of the race. I think he’s a very smart driver. He doesn’t get excited and he’s real smooth.
Q: Did you ever have a championship battle going down to the last race?
Foyt: Yes, in 1967. It was out in Riverside, California, on the road course. I went off the track to miss a wreck and I still got hit out there, so I ran back and got in Roger McCluskey’s car and beat Mario Andretti for the championship.
Q: Had you arranged to get in another car prior to the race if you had trouble?
Foyt: I did, in case I needed one.
Q: They don’t allow that anymore, right?
Foyt: No, they don’t let you do a lot of things. Now they tell you what kind of tires you’ve got to run (primary and alternate tires on road/street courses). It’s not like racing used to be. I won a race with Goodyears on the front and Firestones on the back.
Q: Did you get in trouble for that?
Foyt: I was under contract with Goodyear, but like I told them, Firestone chased them all night long. That was in a sprint car. I was on the pole at Indy and went out to the Fairgrounds to run the Friday night before the 500.
Q: What would you consider a successful Western Swing?
Foyt: Naturally to be successful, it would be to win. But if we run good out there, I’ll be happy. We’ve won at Long Beach, so we know what it’s like to win. It’s a hard racetrack. A lot of people crash out there. It’s kind of like Portland, you knew on the first lap there was going to be a crash.