Anthony Joseph Foyt, Jr. or A. J. Foyt was the son of an auto mechanic who built midget race cars. Encouraged by his father, he became a racer at the age of 17 and competed in races in nearby places, but success eluded him initially. But his talent could not be ignored. He soon found a place in a team and competed in his first Indianapolis 500 race; he could not complete the race due to a mechanical snag. But three years later, at 26, he won the first of his four Indy 500 titles. He partnered legendary driver Dan Gurney to prevail in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. It showed not only his endurance, but also his versatility, as he became the first Indy 500 to win it. He is the only individual to win the "Triple Crown" of professional racing – the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, and the 24 Hour Le Mans. Post-retirement, he continues to work as a team owner. His company, A. J. Foyt Enterprise’s teams participated in the CART, IRL, and NASCAR. He has been bestowed with many awards and honors in racing, and was declared the "Best Driver of the Century" (with Mario Andretti) by the Associated Press.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as Anthony Joseph Foyt, Jr. in Houston, Texas. His father (Tony) ran a shop that specialized in race cars. Young Anthony went to Pershing and Hamilton middle schools.
He attended Lamar and San Jacinto high schools, but decided that he wanted to take up racing and left high school to become a mechanic. By 18, he was racing his father’s midget cars.
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He began his racing career in a midget car. His first USAC midget car win was at a 100 lap event at Kansas City in 1957, and he stood seventh in the season points table.
Though he switched to sprint and championship cars after 1957, he was able to win two consecutive Turkey Night Grand Prix titles, an Astro Grand Prix, a Hut Hundred subsequently.
In 1956, he won his first sprint car race at Salem, Indiana. He switched from IMCA to USAC, and ended winner in 28 USAC National sprint car feature races, and an Eastern Championship title.
In the 1964 season, he progressed to a fourth national Indy car title. He won his second Indy 500, after the cars driven by Jim Clark, Bobby Marshman, and Parnelli Jones developed mechanical snags.
He was thrice champion in USAC's stock car racing – at the Billy Vukovich Memorial 200 at Hanford Speedway in California in 1964, Milwaukee, Texas World Speedway, and Michigan International Speedway.
He won his first NASCAR race in July 1964 at Daytona Beach, after taking the lead from Bobby Isaac, during the final 50 laps at the Daytona International Speedway.
He sustained grievous chest injuries and a broken back in a NASCAR race in1965 at Riverside, California. The track doctor even pronounced him dead, but fellow competitor Parnelli Jones was able to revive him.
In the 1967 Indianapolis 500, he beat favorite Parnelli Jones in a STP-Paxton Turbocar, when Carl Williams lost control to set off a five-car accident ahead of him.
He won the 24 Hours of Le Mans race in 1967, and later the 12 Hours of Sebring and 24 Hours of Daytona. Thus, he achieved the Triple Crown of endurance racing.
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He won the Daytona 500, a NASCAR race held at Daytona International Speedway driving a 1971 model Mercury, on February 20, 1972. That year’s event had the least number of leaders.
For two consecutive years from 1971, he won at the Ontario Motor Speedway for Wood Brothers Racing. The track resembles the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in shape and is nearly rectangular oval.
An accident at the Michigan 500 in 1981 nearly cost him an arm. Determined to get back on to the racing tracks, he was able to qualify at the Indy 500, the next year.
A serious crash, in which he sustained severe injuries to his lower limbs, happened at a 1990 CART race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, but he returned the next year for Indianapolis 500.
He announced his decision to retire from driving on Indianapolis’ Pole Day 1993 to groom his racing team. “I couldn’t drive and be the car owner that a young driver needs,” he said.
His team has won the national Indy car title five times between 1967 and 1998. Scott Sharp and Kenny Brack were the drivers in the last two winning years.
In 1961, Foyt defended his points championship and won the Indy 500, the first driver to do so. A record speed of 139.13 mph ensured that he could win over Eddie Sachs who was forced to pit due to a blistered tire.
He won the 1977 Indianapolis 500, despite running out of fuel. He switched on turbo boost to compensate for lost time risking engine damage. Luck favored him as Johncock’s engine shut down.
One of the greatest racing drivers ever, he is the only one to win the Indianapolis 500 four times, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Foyt was named Best Driver of the Century along with Mario Andretti, by the Associated Press. In 1998, he was included to the list of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers.
Since 1988, he was inducted to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, National Sprint Car Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, and the National Midget Auto Racing Hall of Fame.
Personal Life & Legacy
Foyt and his wife Lucy have four children– Tony (A.J. III), Terry, Jerry, and Larry. Jerry is involved in stock car racing, Larry in go-karts racing and Tony and his son, in racing junior dragsters.
This retired legendary racing driver dreads African killer bees. During his racing days, he used to be dogged by the fear that his car would go up in flames.
In the movie, ‘Cannonball’, the name of the government official who tries to stop the Cannonball race is a take on this legendary racer's name.