The Passion of Racing

By Ryan Westman

The roar of the engine as it reverberates off of nearby city buildings, the art of passing as quick as a cobra’s strike, the patience, the persistence, the passion: this is racing. For as long as I can remember, I have been attending racing events around the globe. From Formula 1 to NASCAR, weekend warriors on the dirt track, short ovals in the corn fields of Indiana to F1 greats on the legendary, winding streets of Monaco, I have seen it all. These experiences have not just molded an interest in the sport but have also become the fabric of my life. Racing is my passion.

I grew up in Indiana, and the two hour car ride to Indianapolis was a pilgrimage my father and I made every year. Walking into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, gazing down the 5/8- mile straightaway out onto 300,000 race fans, brings peace to the soul; you realize you are not the only one with the “bug.” Then it happens. Seemingly, out of nowhere, and then gone again for another 40 seconds; the whole place becomes as silent as the early May-morning dew clinging to the infield grass. The howl, the roar, the scream. No adjective does it justice but trust me, it gives you goose bumps. It gets inside you and once it is inside you, you can’t shake it.

Those who don’t understand the allure of racing may just interpret the sport as cars going around in circles. You don’t see what you don’t understand. Non-believers in the sport don’t see the meticulous engineering it takes to trim out the car and generate the down force to run at 230 mph. Did you know that an IndyCar generates enough down force or reverse lift that it could drive upside down at 150 mph? Maybe it’s that they don’t see the fuel conservation and intricate strategy required to win the race. Or perhaps they are unbeknownst to the team aspect and how even a minor mishap on a pit stop can cost a team its chances at victory. Perhaps, if they appreciated the danger every driver assumes when he gets inside the car, knowing that the Speedway has claimed 15 lives. Perhaps, if they were cognizant of the grueling, physical toll that the 2.5-hour race takes on a driver, who stands to lose an average of 5 pounds each race. I once asked Ironman and 10- time Indy 500 participant, Vitor Meira, “what is more difficult: an Ironman or the Indy 500?” Definitive in his answer, he responded, “the 500!”

It takes perfection to win at Indy. It takes mastery to win it four times. In fact, only three men have completed this feat: Al Unser Sr., Rick Mears, and A.J. Foyt. Among these men, only one stands as a true testament to racing. He not only drove his way to victory at Indy, but did so in the very cars he built. If the race wasn’t going his way, he’d come into the pits, grab a wrench, get down on one knee to fix the problem, and go back out on the track harder than ever. He is the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He holds the all-time USAC career wins record with 159 victories and the all-time American championship racing career wins record with 67. He is a larger than life character who embodies the spirit and racing heritage of Indianapolis. He is the first person to win the Indy 500 in both a rear engine car and a front engine car, and he did so twice with each. His charisma captures the attention of a room. He possesses an unwavering drive for success, not content with merely reaching the pinnacle of his sport, but persistent in becoming its most dominant player. He speaks his mind and often tussles with other drivers and personas in the sport. This character trait has made him endearing to some and an enemy to others. He once was quoted as saying, “I say what is on my mind and the way I feel.” Despite the controversy, a man who holds honesty and loyalty as virtues emerges. I am honored to call A.J. Foyt my friend.

Two years ago, my parents were attending a Concours d’Elegance auction when an incredible piece of art came across the block. It was a Colin Carter original painting titled, “Four Time Winners.” The artwork featured the four-time Indy 500 winners mentioned above. The painting was already adorned with Rick Mears’ signature and after a brief conversation, Al Unser Sr., who was in attendance, offered to sign the painting for my father. The only signature that remained outstanding was A.J. Foyt’s. The auction company mentioned to my father that A.J. Foyt had planned to be in attendance but was undergoing heart surgery.

The auction coordinator pointed my father to the Foyt table where he met A.J.’s son, Larry. They began talking about A.J. Foyt memories and their shared passion for IndyCar and were soon exchanging business cards. Shortly thereafter, my father contacted the Foyt race shop and talked to a wonderful woman by the name of Becky Baranouski. As with the rest of the Foyt racing family, Becky, too, quickly became a good friend. With her assistance, the painting was soon en route to Waller, Texas to the race shop of A.J. Foyt to be signed.

Shortly thereafter, Becky called my father with exciting news. They began talking about Alfe Heat Treating’s involvement in the #14 and #41 car as an associate sponsor at the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A tremendous fan of both A.J. and IndyCar racing, my father jumped at the opportunity. Thus began my family’s relationship with the AJ Foyt Racing. In 2011, we started off as a single-race associate sponsor.

This quickly blossomed into a multi-car, multi-race deal the second we saw how well-suited the orange Alfe logo looked plastered on to the side of an IndyCar! After the 500, we increased our involvement by attending and sponsoring the Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, and Las Vegas races.

To be in the presence of A.J. and hear his stories is like being schooled in the very history of American automobile racing. From funny stories of tearing up the backyard with his father’s midget car as a kid to tragic stories of his accident in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin when the brakes failed and the car smashed into a dirt embankment, shattering both the racecar and A.J.’s legs. A.J. told me that he couldn’t tell which leg was which. He was in so much pain that  he told the doctor, “just find a goddamn hammer, and knock me in the head!” That day, the doctors told him everything from, “you might lose your leg” to “you will never walk again.” A.J., being who he is, found a way to get back in the racecar nine months later to race his 34th consecutive Indy 500. See, racing is as much about the heros it develops as the racing itself. We have so much to learn from our heros. A.J. Foyt is my hero, and my time at the track with the team has taught me a lot about determination and persistance. If in life we don’t get the result we desire, we must dust ourselves off and go out there the next week to try again. A.J. was once quoted saying, “determination that just won’t quit….that’s what it takes.” Patience, persistance, passion… that is to racing and that is to life.

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