Like many in America, race fans are spending more time on social media while maintaining social distance to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. Through Twitter (T), Instagram (IG) and Facebook (FB), we asked them to submit questions for A.J. Foyt, who is maintaining his social distance on his ranch. The response was terrific so we will conduct this interview over the course of the next couple weeks. A.J. took time out from his bulldozer this week to answer some questions. Here is Round 1 of #AskA.J. ...
Q: As you are considered to be the best racecar driver to ever suit up, what were the biggest problems you faced and how did you overcome those adversities throughout your career? – @DonTyle34948325 (T)
A.J.: “The biggest problem I faced was that I was from Texas and when I started, to get to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you had to be from California or probably the Midwest. If you didn’t come from California, you could hardly get a driver test at Indianapolis. I was fortunate enough that I ran the IMCA sprint cars and won at Salem, Indiana – a high-banked track. It was kind of a dangerous race track. I guess Clint Brawner was over there watching me race and figured I could make it. That was the biggest thing I had to overcome was to prove to them that I was a pretty good race driver. Lucky enough Al Dean from California picked me up and at that time Jimmy Bryan was a three-time national champion for them and to try to fill his boots was something else.
At Indy in 1958 outside their garage are (L to R): Clint Brawner, A.J. and Al Dean. Note says: To A.J. "This is When it All Begins" Clint Brawner
“I was just hoping and dreaming someday that I’d be good enough to qualify for the Indy 500. I didn’t have any money to go to California and race and come from there so I just had to start at home in Houston Texas and work my way up. I borrowed money from a bank and bought my own midget and ran some midget races on the way to Indiana and then I was lucky enough I got a ride there at Salem, won the race and the right people were there to see it. That was a highlight in my career when I was starting out.”
Q: My other question is what car owners had the biggest impact on your career?
A.J.: “I would have to say Bob Bowes of Bowes Seal Fast. They picked me up and I worked with George Bignotti out of California. We had a great team, we got together. Fortunately, we got to winning races and won the championship in 1960, then came back and won Indy in 1961 [and a second title]. We stayed together and won a lot of races.
“I was qualified for Indy and I had my sprint car and two days before the 500, IRP [Indianapolis Raceway Park] was having a sprint car race and I said, Ive got to go run my sprint car and Bob Bowes said, if you get hurt, don’t call me because I’ll be drinking at the bar and you’re on your own. I said, ‘Well I’ve got to make some money.” Lucky enough, I went out there and won the sprint race and came back and ran pretty good at Indy.” [He won]
Q: Is it true that you didn’t understand the NASCAR yellow flag rule in the 1979 Daytona 500 and as result you finished 3rd versus possibly beating Waltrip and Petty to victory. - @orion4214 (IG)
A.J.: “What happened was that Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison crashed on the last lap. In Indy car racing when you saw the yellow flag, the first thing you did was try to get your car slowed down because you were in an open wheel car and you could get hurt real bad. When I saw the wreck, I’m used to backing off so I backed off and when I did, they went right by me. And I thought, Oh damn, they race back to the start finish line. So I learned a lesson there. I felt like I would have won the race but I wound up running third and that was my own fault for not following the rules. Later on, NASCAR changed the rule because it was dangerous. [They eliminated the controversial rule during the 2003 season after an incident involving Dale Jarrett at New Hampshire Int’l Raceway.]
Q: What was Ray Harroun like in person? - @Ronnie_Burgers (T)
A.J.: “After I won in 1961, Tony Hulman sent me and him to New York on that TV show, I’ve Got a Secret. I was only with him there a couple days. He was really a nice guy. I asked him questions and he answered them truthfully. He was soft-spoken. I asked him, ‘When do you know when it’s time to quit?’ and he was such a nice guy, and he said, ‘Well, it’ll probably just come to you all of sudden.’
To see the I've Got a Secret segment on YouTube, please click here.
Q: Who was your toughest competitor on dirt? And on pavement? @GregCriser (T)
A.J.: “In Indy cars, as far as dirt, the toughest guy to beat was Rodger Ward with A.J. Watson. He was tough. Parnelli Jones was tough and so was Jim Hurtubise but Rodger Ward was the man to beat on dirt.
"On pavement, well actually he was on pavement too. Rodger Ward and A.J. Watson, that was a tough team to beat. They were older and ahead of us but to win races, you had to beat them. I remember one time they ran third and I said to Watson, ‘Man you all run third’ and he said, ‘Hell, it’s better than fourth.’”
Q: If you could go back in time what car would you love to drive to the edge one more time? – Keith W. (FB)
A.J.: “I think the most fun racing I ever had was running the midgets on the half mile dirt at Ascot in California. The Jack London car. Bignotti worked on it and it was a helluva race car and a lot of fun to drive. And my competition out there was Parnelli Jones. It was very tough competition.”
A.J. poses with Jack London's No. 5 Bowes Seal Fast Offenhauser-powered midget that he raced on the West Coast in the early 60s.
Q: What was more fun to drive? Front engine roadsters or the rear engine late ‘60s Coyotes? – dnick_22 (IG)
A.J.: “I really enjoyed driving both of them. They were completely different kinds of cars to drive but lucky enough I adapted to both of them. When I had to adapt to the rear engine car, the back end would get out a lot quicker than you realized and any time the back end got out on a roadster, you normally spun out. I didn’t ever spin one that much, but you had to watch the rear engine car because the back end could be out and you wouldn’t really know it as quick as you would on a roadster. With the rear engine car, when the back end came out, you could save it easier and more often. With the roadster, normally you didn’t save it.”
Q: Out of these two dirt miles, which was his favorite. DuQuoin or Springfield, Illinois? – Jeff H. (FB)
A.J.: “I liked Du Quoin because it was a driver’s race track and that’s where I won my first Indy car race. It was a fun race track and you had to really drive it. Springfield was a great track, don’t get me wrong, but Du Quoin was a challenging race track.”
A.J. claimed the first of his record 67 Indy car victories on Labor Day (Sept. 5) in 1960 at the one mile dirt track in DuQuoin, Ill.
Q: If you had to pick one track (still standing or gone forever) to put on the INDYCAR schedule, which track would it be? - ridin_the_gravy_train (IG)
A.J.: “It wouldn’t be for a rear engine car but Langhorne, Pennsylvania. That was a race track you could race on. It was dangerous, but you could race.”
Q: Is your Dad’s hammer still above the door of the barn? - Jerry W. (FB)
A.J.: “Yep, I haven’t moved it.” For the story behind the hammer, search in Sports Illustrated’s Vault (vault.si.com) for the feature on A.J. titled “Twilight of a Titan” by the award-winning author William Nack.
Q: Are you upset you didn't get stuffed mushrooms, lasagna and a couple Coors Lights in St. Pete this year? - @Vanillawilt (T)
A.J.: “Yeah I’m upset about it because it was great food!”
Q: Of all your Indy 500 wins which one was your favorite? - Naya W-E (FB)
A.J.: “To be truthful, they were all my favorites, but I’d have to say, probably the last one . To be the first four-time winner, have your own motor in the car that you built and to drive it and have Mr. Hulman ride around the track with me in the pace car on the victory lap made that one very special.”
Tony Hulman and A.J. Foyt wave to fans during Foyt's victory lap after winning his then record fourth Indianapolis 500 in 1977.
Q: I know you had great eyesight and hand/eye coordination. What other sports were you good at while growing up? – Don M. (FB)
A.J.: “My whole career I loved racing but I played a little football in high school (offense) and I enjoyed that but I didn’t play that much. I enjoyed cars more than anything since I was a baby. I played basketball but not very much, I did that mostly for benefits or fund raisers where the drivers would get together.”
Q: I live near the Pocono track, I’ve seen you win there 4 times. What did you like about the “tricky triangle”? - david_p_snyder (IG)
A.J.: “It was a man’s race track, you could race on it if you wanted to race. I know a lot of people didn’t like it but it was a race track you had to race on -- if you knew how to race. I liked it when I ran stock cars there too. It’s a lot of fun to drive. One thing about it, you had to stay on your toes all day long or you’d get in trouble. It wasn’t a race track where you could just hold it wide open and turn the steering wheel, you had to drive it.”
Q: You have raced and driven just about everything. Is there something past or present that you would have loved to have tried driving but for whatever reason were not able to do? - Brian H. (FB)
A.J.: “No, because everything I wanted to race in, I was able to get a ride.”
Q: Have you ever tried a race simulator? If not, it would be interesting! – Brian C. (FB)
A.J.: “No, that’s not racing. I never wanted to even though people have wanted me to try it but for me it would just be a waste of time. I have too many other things I want to do.”
Q: I just had a "maybe-crazy" idea after watching the virtual Nascar race on FoxS1. If he doesn't have one of those set-ups, someone needs to deliver one to the ranch, sanitize it good, let him practice on it and have a race with his protege, Tony Stewart and somehow share it with us. If it were at all possible, would he do it? Could be a dream come true for Tony! And a lot of us! – Brenda D. (FB)
A.J.: “I never cared about simulator stuff. If I were to do anything, I’d want to race him in a car.”
A.J. poses with Tony Stewart who took A.J.'s 1961 Indy 500 winning car for a drive around Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2017.
Q: Did you ever drive that tractor into a lake? Bill Puterbaugh was good at that (driving vehicles into lakes). – Janet S. (FB)
A.J.: “I didn’t drive a tractor into a lake but I drove my bulldozer into one. I was doing some work and it got slick and slidin’ and I thought I could make it and all of sudden was off in the lake. And then I turned one upside down in the lake too, when it fell off the side.”
Q: What's your dozer of choice AJ? Caterpillar hi-drive or K series or Komatsu, John Deere, Case or have you tried the full-on hydrostatic Liebherr dozers? – Howard B. (FB)
A.J.: “My dozers are John Deere and Cats but as far as tractors, I like John Deere better than all of them.”