By A.J. Foyt
Every time we come to Milwaukee, we don’t run for beans.
They say insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Well that track is making us crazy but it isn’t because we are doing the same thing year in and year out. Different drivers, different engineers, different set-ups and the results are the same--bad. I did some digging Monday morning and found out what our problem was this year even if it was too late to be useful. It was driving me crazy not knowing where we went wrong. At least now we know where and why.
We flew up to Wisconsin on Thursday afternoon to attend the ABC Supply Founders Celebration at the company headquarters in Beloit.
Our race driver Vitor Meira joined us there. We met lots of the employees and their families. As it turned out, it was the best part of our weekend.
Hopefully, the Milwaukee 225 will turn out to be our worst weekend of the season.
My bad weekend started with my rental car when we landed in Milwaukee. I won’t say the make but this premium car had a small trunk with the spare tire in the trunk, not tucked underneath like every other car in America. And it was designed that way! I had two other people with me and one of them had to share the backseat with most of the luggage. Ridiculous.
I thought to myself that this was going to be a long weekend when things weren’t going that well in Friday’s practice session. And that was before we crashed! Yep Vitor and I both crashed! I came off our very tall pit box stand in a hurry, and my shoe caught on a ladder rung. Down I went in a full body slam. Except for a few scrapes, I was more embarrassed than hurt.
A little later, Vitor spun and hit the wall in turn four which is where everyone was having problems. He wasn’t the only one to hit that wall. Vitor said he tried too hard and pushed the car over its limit but the car wasn’t right.
On Saturday he ran the backup car and by the end of the second practice that day, he felt pretty comfortable in the car. In qualifying, he was cautious on his first lap and it cost him, because he ran a much faster second lap. I didn’t blame him even though he apologized for it. I understood.
It’s hard not to be goosey when you’ve hit the wall once already. He knew we didn’t have another backup car so it was better to make sure he got the ABC Supply car qualified -- not wreck it trying. He qualified 22nd which is our worst start of the season but that was about the way the weekend was going.
Still we were optimistic for the race because Vitor did say that he was able to run flat on that second lap. I think he was upbeat too. And racing is such a tough sport, you have to be an optimist.
In the race, it looked like things were turning around because he went from 22nd to 19th on the first lap but the lap finished under yellow because Ryan Hunter-Reay spun and hit the wall.
They cleaned up his accident pretty quick and seven laps later the race restarted. So did our problems. It wasn’t two laps later that Vitor radioed in that the car was loose. I knew something was wrong because he began fading backwards and was running high. When a car feels loose, a driver will run a higher, wider line; he doesn’t want to pinch it because the back end will snap around. Drivers hate being loose.
And so began a vicious circle - literally. Running high meant faster cars (which was pretty much everybody at that point) were going under him so he wasn’t able to keep his tires clean which made the car even harder to drive. It’s like driving on ice because the tires get a buildup on them.
We were hoping for a yellow but when he went three laps down, I told him to pit so we could change it or park it. I was afraid we were going to become the yellow we were looking for.
We adjusted the front wing, slapped on new tires and sent him out. His lap times didn’t improve even though he was on new tires and no one else was. The car was still loose so he was still trying to stay out of everyone’s way.
I know a driver hates to park a car when he feels there is a chance he can make it better but on a tight, one mile oval with 24 other cars running, it’s a bad deal. You’re asking for trouble and it will find you.
I’ve been in this game long enough to know when to roll ‘em and when to fold ‘em. By that time we were four laps down, and we didn’t have anything to gain by staying out but we had a lot to lose. So I told him to park it.
He did and I could tell he was upset. I respect that but as I told him, when a weekend starts out bad, it usually gets worse. I didn’t want to see how much worse this one could get. And knowing what I know now, I’m glad we parked it. It was the right decision.
What made it harder was the fact that there were so many employees there from ABC Supply, including the top executives who only get to a couple races a year because of their busy schedules. I explained the situation and they were very understanding, which I really appreciated. But still, you hate to disappoint your sponsors—especially when the race is in their backyard.
So we’ll take this one on the chin, put it behind us and focus on this weekend’s Saturday night race in Iowa. I’m glad that it’s less than a week away because a good weekend there will make it easier to forget this one.
The Iowa Corn Indy 250 will be televised on Versus starting at 8 p.m. E.T. Hope you tune in.