By A.J. Foyt
I love auto racing. Since the 1950s, I’ve been fortunate enough to make a living from it. Whether it’s driving a sprint car against the cushion on a half-mile dirt track or taking the checkered flag first in the Indianapolis 500, there is little that can compare to the thrill racing gives to a driver. This sport has given me great experiences and even greater memories.
But it has its dark side. We saw it and felt it Sunday afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when the IndyCar Series closed out its season with a brutal accident that cut short a race and the life of a two-time Indy 500 champion.
On behalf of my team and everyone involved with it, I send my deepest condolences to Dan Wheldon’s wife Susie, their young sons and family. In an instant, so many lives were changed--forever.
Wheldon’s fatal accident left many people asking why. Some experts are trying to answer that question and the reality is, we’ll never really know. I have always believed that when it’s your time to go, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. I’ve been close and the times I came closest to it were when I wasn’t even in an Indy car, but it just wasn’t my time. I really believe that.
I never believed in that death wish stuff that people say about race drivers. But I knew that when I hooked up those belts in the cockpit, I might not be the one who unhooks them. I learned early to live in the present and not count on the future.
Auto racing is not 100% safe. It will never be totally safe, but we will never stop trying to make it safer for everyone: the drivers, the crews, and the spectators.
Sunday’s 15-car pileup was a terrible disaster—many people say it was the worst accident they’ve ever seen. That may be true for them in their lifetime but it’s not so in mine. I can never forget the accidents I saw in the first Indy I went to in 1955, the first one I raced in 1958, or the second 500 I won in 1964.
And yet on Sunday, a young driver died, leaving behind a family, a fraternity, and a sport devastated by that loss.
We will learn from this. The track operators, team owners, car designers and race officials will come up with ways to make the sport safer than it is today. I can tell you that it is 1000 percent safer than it was when I started driving Indy cars in 1957.
But I believe that the biggest improvement can come from the drivers themselves. If they have more respect for the equipment they drive, the speeds they reach, and the tracks that they race on, there will be fewer accidents overall.
I know there are times when accidents happen and no one is to blame. But I also know that if the drivers gave each other more consideration on the track, there would be fewer accidents overall. Is it too tough to do when racing wheel to wheel? Believe me, it’s too costly not to do it because the drivers are the ones who have the most to gain -- or lose.
Run hard, race clean. I can’t think of a better way for the drivers to pay tribute to the winner of the 100th Anniversary Indy 500.
After all, actions speak louder than words.