Friday, May 23, 2008

A.J. Foyt - Greatest Driver in History

"I've always thought he was the best." - Mario Andretti

The Indianapolis 500 is here this weekend, so what better time to recognize America's greatest racing icon, A.J. Foyt?

A.J. is the greatest race car driver in history - its very hard to argue with the facts. ESPN took a poll of current top drivers and various racing experts and they agree - A.J. was voted #1 by them in a poll ranking the top 25 drivers in racing history. Mario Andretti came in a close second, with Dale Earnhart, Michael Shumacher, and Ayrton Senna rounding out the top 5. Wow, what a group of incredible drivers. Without a doubt, the one trait that links all these drivers together is their tenacity and super high levels of aggression in making their way to the front.

But I just want to talk about A.J. for a bit, because I think for most people those other names are all household names, but they might not know much about a US driving champion not named Earnhardt. Possibly the most most incredible and unlikely thing abou A.J. is how he made it to the "big leagues." Racing is an extremely expensive sport, so the chances arent great for a blue collar kid from Houston who doesnt have a wealthy family to support him and pay for the myriad expenses. But his dad owned an auto shop, and was quite the mechanic. AJ got his start on the tiny backroad raceways of Texas, and his skills earned him enough wins around local tracks that his dad knew they had to do something to get his kid in a bigger race. His dad cashed a $300 insurance policy (that was a long time ago, back when dollars were worth something) and took A.J. up to Indiana to do midget car racing, where A.J. completely dominated. The cars they used were assembled and maintained in his dad's garage, from day 1 of his racing career until he had won the Indy 500 4 times. Thats right, the Foyt family designed their cars, assembled them, maintained them, and raced them to perfection, all out of the first little garage his dad ever owned in Houston. While all other racing teams are corporate, the Foyt racing team was impossibly family owned and operated.

In terms of racing skill, there is very little doubt AJ was among the best to ever sit behind a wheel. He owned the Indy 500 with a ridiculous 67 wins. He crushed Nascar. He could out drive the very best European touring car experts. He was offered a chance to drive for the top F1 racing teams, but turned it down becaue he found F1 boring, hyper-political, and filled with unsportsmanlike cry babies.

Lets just reveiw: A.J. is the only man in history to win the the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and back-to-back titles at the International Race of Champions - a feat that will certainly never be equalled.

After 40+ years of dominating, crashing, flipping, barrel rolling, exploding, being set on fire, and almost losing both his legs, at the young age of 60, A.J. decided that even after qualifying for his signature race, the Indianapolis 500, he would not enter. He would retire.

"I wanted to do it at Indy," Foyt said. "No matter what else I've ever done in racing, people know me for Indy."

Officials cleared the 2.5 mile track of all other cars, and A.J. made his last lap. He circled the track slowly, pulled over to the pit crew, and got out of his car for the last time - no regrets, no looking back.



umop said...

I'd heard the name but not really much of the background. So it's fascinating to read about his 'family business'.

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