By A.J. Foyt
The Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway proved an important point for the IndyCar Series. Indy cars don’t have to give up their oval track heritage for the sake of safety.
After the tragedy in Las Vegas last year, people—media, drivers (even one NASCAR champion), and some fans--were questioning whether Indy cars should run on ovals. I took exception to it then and said as much in this newspaper. Well, they backed off that but continued to say quietly we shouldn’t be racing at high-banked tracks like Texas Motor Speedway.
I disagreed with that feeling too. We need to be at tracks where the drivers can race! I wish I was young enough to still race because Texas was the kind of track I loved to race on—fast with plenty of room to pass.
There was a lot of concern among the drivers about the pack racing on the 1.5-mile tracks and the IndyCar tech officials listened hard and came up with a different aero package. It took away some of the downforce (as much as 400 lbs.) so the drivers could not drive flat-footed all the way around the track. They would actually have to lift off the throttle and drive the cars—the way it used to be when I was driving.
The cars weren’t as secure and there were a lot of complaints from drivers about the handling over the radios. Cars were either loose (nervous in the rear) or pushing (the front of the car won’t turn and the car drifts towards the wall).
Gone were the 15-20 car packs. There were crashes – some surprising ones like the single car incident of Scott Dixon who touched the track apron and had the back end snap on him. But the cars were so sensitive to changes, either in the tire wear, sudden moves by other cars, or the line you took, that the drivers really had to be on their toes for the whole race.
Be careful what you wish for.
My driver Mike Conway struggled with our car’s handling at the beginning of practice on Friday. We also had a small pit lane fire when a fuel hose popped out of its connector while our fueler Rodney Klausmeyer was fueling the car. Mike didn’t get hurt—in fact he finished running practice but Rodney suffered 2nd degree burns to his right hand. He won’t be fueling for a while but he’s Texas tough. He still worked around the pits with his good hand.