A.J. Foyt: My Indy 500 Wins 'Were a Hell of a Lot More Racing Than What They’re Doing Today'

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Why Foyt Says His Four Indy 500 Wins Stand AlonePenske Entertainment/Dana Garrett

A.J. Foyt either previously owned or still owns most Indy car open-wheel records, the most notable of his being the first of four eventual drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 four different times (1961, 1964, 1967, 1977).

Even today, more than 30 years after he last drove a race car, Foyt still owns the record for Indy car championships (7), starts (369), wins (67), podiums (117) and is the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 (1972) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1967).

But there’s one record Foyt holds that no one will ever break, and which he holds the most pride in. His four wins in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing came twice in roadsters, twice in rear-engined cars, he won when Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s front straightaway was still paved with bricks (1961) and he calls his last Indy 500 triumph as the most satisfying of the four.

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A.J. Foyt leads the way at the 1977 Indianapolis 500.Heinz Kluetmeier - Getty Images

“I would say the best race that I won was the fourth time I won it," Foyt told Autoweek. “I had my own race car, we built it, I drove it, it was my own motor, and nobody’s going to ever break that record.”

As the now 88-year-old legend nicknamed “Super Tex” prepares for the 65th consecutive 500 that he’s either raced in or has been a team owner (or both) since 1958, Foyt fully believes his namesake A.J. Foyt Racing has its best chance of reaching victory lane once again for the first time since Swedish driver Kenny Brack drove for and won for him in 1999.

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Kenny Brack won the 500 with team owner A.J. Foyt in 1999.JEFF HAYNES - Getty Images

“I really do think that,” Foyt said of the faith he has in his two young drivers, Santino Ferrucci and Benjamin Pedersen.

Foyt came out of the Playland Park neighborhood of Houston and knocked around the southwest driving midgets and sprint cars before he started advancing upwards, eventually making it to Indianapolis in 1958 as a fresh-faced and bright-eyed 23-year-old at the time.

And even with all the success he achieved globally over the years since then, Indianapolis has always been his second home.

“Well, I’ve won a lot of major races all over the world, but everybody knows me for Indianapolis,” Foyt said. “So that’s what it means to me.

“The fans, I love ‘em and they’ve supported me all these years. Even when I’ve been down, they’ve still been with me, so that’s why I’ve fought so hard to come back (every year).”

Foyt still remembers his first 500 in 1958 as if it was yesterday.

“I was one of the fastest rookies and I started on the outside of the fourth row (12th)—and I'm probably the only man that's never missed the race all of the years since,” he said.

Then he adds with a touch of humor, “I remember it was very thrilling. The only down thing I remember, they didn't tell me going down the back straightaway (early in the race) that everybody's gonna pile up going into Turn 3, some end-over-end.”

He managed to avoid the big early wreck, and things were going pretty smoothly until a water hose broke going into Turn 1 on Lap 148 of the 200-lap race. After flirting with the top 10 for a good chunk of the race, he ultimately finished 16th.

Three years later, Foyt would become an Indy 500 champion for the first of four times. Yet to this day, Foyt still can’t forget the one 500 that got away from him. Otherwise, right now he’d be the only five-time winner of the biggest race in the world.

“It was 1976,” Foyt said. “I led (nearly 30 laps) and came in for fuel and they called it a race (after just 102 of the scheduled 200 laps due to rain), and my good friend Johnny Rutherford won it,” Foyt said. “I just told them, ‘Give me one more lap’ and I probably would have won it.”

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A.J. Foyt, left, talks with Gordon Johncock at indianapolis in 1976.Bettmann - Getty Images

But in hindsight, Foyt isn’t upset that he didn’t win that year because eventually, things kind of evened out: “I probably won one or two that I shouldn’t have, and I probably lost three or four that I should have won,” he chuckled.

Foyt has always been a big supporter of the various versions of Indy car racing, from USAC to CART to the Indy Racing League to the modern-day IndyCar, and remains that way today.

“IndyCar is still a good racing (series),” Foyt said. “The good thing about the cars today are they’re about 1,000% safer than they were back when I started in the roadster days.

“The only difference I don’t like is where you used to be able to build your own cars and do a lot of stuff your own way, where nowadays you can’t. You have certain rules you have to live by. I mean, you had rules before you had to live by, but you could do your own stuff. But they've taken that all away from the mechanic because you have the factories in with a Chevrolet and Honda motor.

“Whereas before, you had things like the Offenhauser motor where after you qualified, you had to rebuild it and race with that motor. Them days are gone.”

Foyt was asked his thoughts about Formula 1 making inroads in traditional IndyCar territory, with three races this year in the U.S. for the first time ever. First, he gives a history lesson before he reveals what he REALLY thinks about F1.

“I was offered a ride years ago for Ferrari (he pronounces it “Fair-are-ee"), but when they said you’d be the No. 2 race car driver, even if you could win a race, that’s when I decided to stay with my Sprint Cars and Midgets,” Foyt said. “If I could win the race, I was going to win the race, I wasn’t going to run behind the team’s other car. I don’t believe in racing that way.”

As for F1 today, he believes IndyCar shouldn’t feel threatened: “No, I don’t think so. I wouldn’t cross the street to go watch a Formula 1 race because you know who’s going to win. That’s not racing.”

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Tony Kanaan finished fourth for A.J. Foyt Racing at the 2019 Indy 500.Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

May 28th is the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Foyt would love to find himself back in victory lane as team owner. His best finish as an owner in recent years was when Tony Kanaan drove Foyt’s signature No. 14 car to a ninth-place finish in 2019.

“It would mean a hell of a lot to me and I think we have a good shot this year, to be truthful with you,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of homework since we’ve been running so bad the last couple of years, so I think it’s going to pay off. We’ll find out qualifying day.”

That Foyt still continues to be involved in racing as he closes in on 90 years old is not a surprise. Sure, he has a ranch near Houston where he raises cattle and horses, but nothing will ever supplant Indy as No. 1 in his heart.

“I feel like Indianapolis is my second home,” he said. “I think the reason I got (his first ride in the 500) from Clem Brawner was because they watched me win at Salem, Indiana, and if you can run fast on the high banks and didn’t get killed, they thought you’d make a pretty good Indianapolis driver. So I got through that.”

And he’s been doing it ever since. Even if Helio Castroneves wins No. 5 this year or in the next few years, or even if another driver comes along in the future and wins more than four 500 championships, Foyt says more power to him—or her.

“Well, that would be good,” he said. “The way the cars are today, it wouldn’t surprise me to see someone win six or seven Indy 500s. But they won’t ever match my record because I won it in roadsters, and I won it in rear-engine cars, plus on the front straightaway on bricks. Mine was a hell of a lot more racing than what they’re doing today with the cars.”

And there’s one other group of people Foyt would love to see one of his drivers win again at Indy, namely, the fans.

“Fans have meant a whole lot because the fans is what made A.J. Foyt, and winning at Indianapolis is also what made A.J. Foyt,” he said. “I didn’t make Indianapolis, it made A.J. Foyt, and that’s the way I’ve always looked at it.”

Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski