By A.J. Foyt
Life takes some funny turns which is probably why I am still talking to you today. I took my wife Lucy in for a checkup (she had a triple bypass in February) on March 16th, a week earlier than scheduled, because her medications were bothering her. The doctors had wanted to check me out because it’d been over 10 years since my stents were put in. Hey, I’ve been busy. Since they had me there, they ran some tests.
But the big test was the angiogram which was put off until a Monday. So knowing racing season was about to get started, I went to my ranch in Del Rio that weekend to finish up a couple trackhoe projects.
After the angiogram on the following Monday (March 21), my cardiologist told me I was lucky to be alive!
Hell, I didn’t know it was going to be THAT bad or I might have hung out with Lucy that weekend. They found the main artery had over a 95% blockage below the two or three stents (I’ve lost count) already in there.
I didn’t want to have open heart surgery and lucky for me, I live in Houston which has some of the best heart doctors in the world. Dr. Civitello is a top interventional cardiologist and he said it was a 50-50 shot as to whether or not he could succeed with just a stent but they had Dr. O.H. Frazier’s open heart surgical team standing by.
Like me, Dr. Civitello likes challenges but I was really nervous--apparently with good reason. When he got in there, he found the artery was blocked more like 99% and the blood was just trickling through. He was able to open it enough with angioplasty (a balloon job) so that the stent could fit in. He stepped back from the cameras and said, “We got it in A.J.!”
I was watching it all on cameras, but to be truthful, I didn’t really know what I was looking at. So when he told me he did it, I was really happy. I mean really happy…and relieved. I think he was too. So was Lucy. I mean she was just starting to feel better and then to have me as a patient for the next month or so? Whew! The more I think about it, Lucy might have been the happiest one of all of us and I can’t blame her. She knows from way too many past experiences what I’m like when I’m laid up. Let me put it this way: If A.J. ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.
So that’s why I wasn’t at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg last weekend. My son Larry was in charge and he and my ABC Supply team did a good job without me (although I did make a few phone calls). Vitor Meira qualified 13th and was up as high as fifth in the race because he was good at avoiding other people’s mistakes (and a little lucky). But around 16-17 laps into the race, he cut a tire racing against Will Power and had to pit under green. We don’t know if Will cut it with his front wing end fence or if Vitor picked up some debris but he lost a lot of track position getting back to the pits because he had to slow up so much. When he came back out, he was 15th and pretty far behind the leaders.
Lucky for us there was another yellow on lap 39 so that allowed him to pit and be on the same strategy as the leaders. He moved up to 13th and then he was able to move up even more as people took themselves out. Our ABC Supply team gave Vitor good stops so he gained a couple spots with his final stop on lap 68. He came back to finish eighth! If we didn’t get that flat tire though I think he would have finished fifth! Still eighth is our best finish ever at St. Pete.
How about those double file restarts? I like them and the drivers better get used to them because I bet they are here to stay. The biggest accident happened at the start but starts are always double file so there was no excuse for that deal. Drivers made mistakes or thought they could sneak by—it’s happened before.
I think having double file restarts will make the show better. After all, if the drivers do them enough, they will get better at it, right? For the fans I think it’s great because it mixes it up more, especially on the street and road circuits where it is so hard to pass. If a team has trouble in the beginning at least they have a fair shot at making it up during the race like we did.
I know that double-file is a double-edged sword because there will be times my team may suffer because of them. But anyone can restart in a single file. That doesn’t take too much skill or brains. These drivers need to use their heads. When I started racing, if you didn’t use your head or respect the other guy, you ended up in the hospital. Today, guys just brush themselves off and walk away.
I don’t know if you would have had that great battle between Simona DeSilvestro and Tony Kanaan without those double file restarts. She drove a helluva race. I was very impressed – she was running second up till the first round of pit stops! What impressed me more was that she drove her hardest at the end of the race against one of the toughest guys on the track! And she almost got him.
I can tell you one thing—I miss having Jack Arute as a pit reporter! The TV announcers never said why my car made an early pit stop. My PR person took the blame for that one (and I let her). Still, if Jackie had been in the pits, he would have noticed and tried to find out why my car went from fifth battling Will Power to the pits.
I think ABC or ESPN needs to get him back on their team—especially with the 100th Anniversary of the Indy 500 coming up. He probably has more pit reporting experience than everyone else combined who was there. I’m not saying they aren’t good at what they do, but if there’s a way to make the broadcast better, they should do it. I bet ABC-TV is glad that I’ll be going to the races instead of watching them on TV.
All in all it was a good weekend for me and our team considering everything. Vitor, Larry and our chief engineer Jeff Britton did a good job coming up with a good package and Vitor did a great job missing all the wrecks. Coming out of St. Pete with the ABC Supply car in one piece was an achievement in itself, and to get a top 10 after falling so far back was really good.
We’re looking forward to racing at Barber where those double file restarts should make it pretty interesting because that track is so narrow. To see if the drivers learned anything from this weekend, tune in to the Versus channel on Sunday, April 10 at 3:00 p.m. ET. It should be very entertaining!