This Saturday brings the Indianapolis 500-mile race and a great confrontation of the old and the new. If the traditional Offenhauser roadster (below) cannot beat back the ominous rear-engine intruder it will surely become as obsolete as horse cavalry. Much of the old guard's hope is fastened upon A. J. Foyt, the white-helmeted driver shown here sliding through one of Indy's four 140-mph corners. Against the opposition's superior speed Foyt must draw most deeply upon his incandescent will to win if he is to repel the invaders. As the article on the following pages discloses, ol' A. J. just might be the man who can do it.
No matter what you hear about Anthony Joseph Foyt Jr. (see cover) between this moment and the Indianapolis 500-mile race, remember that he is not a man driven by an obsession to win. They always say it, his neighbors in that semiresidential section of the Indianapolis Speedway infield known as Gasoline Alley, where for $1,000 per racing car the tenants are permitted to practice mechanics and amateur psychology. They say it, but A. J. says it isn't so. "Obsession? Who, me?" says A. J. Foyt delightedly. "Man, listen. I'm not driven by obsession. If there is any driving to be done around here, ol' A. J. will do it himself. Obsession is gonna have to get a car of his own." All that A. J. really believes is that you "get out in front and you stay out in front."
Foyt's towering hatred of defeat has made him both famous and affluent. He has been champion of the oval tracks three of the last four years, and since he has recently sprinted to the top in sports car competition as well, he is currently the hottest property in all racing.
Stories about Foyt tend to have an epic quality, telling of eventual triumph in the face of long odds. One tale has to do with a race for midget cars two years ago at Terre Haute. It was a piddling event, offering a winner's purse of $600. When his car failed to qualify because of a fast-deteriorating track, Foyt did not write the race off, as any reasonable man would have done. (Reasonable men as well-heeled and famous as Foyt would not have been there in the first place.) He paid another driver $100 for the 24th, and last, starting position. Foyt fought his way to first place at mid-race. He ran out of gas on the last lap, but by then he was so far ahead he was able to coast in the winner. "I figured," he says, "that it was a pretty good gamble."
Off the track Foyt's behavior is no less spectacular. Hot-tempered, handy with his fists and blunt in his speech, he was once fined $1,000 for tongue-lashing a racing promoter, and last year was suspended briefly from racing for roughing up another driver. Close associates are not immune to his whims. His chief mechanic, George Bignotti, once angrily quit. He came back, though, knowing that Foyt gives more of himself in races, 52 weeks a year, than any other driver.
When he chooses, Foyt can turn on the charm. He is extraordinarily handsome both in face and physique. His teeth are whiter than white, and when Foyt smiles they light up. This creates a brighten-the-corner effect so compelling that impressionable young women are apt to go swoony in his presence.
Foyt's willingness to take ultimate risks, to drive a little deeper into the corners than the next man, has brought him a six-figure income, three national driving championships and one "500" victory (in 1961). His $110,000 trophy-cluttered house in Houston, where he occasionally manages to visit his wife Lucy and his three children, sprawls over four building lots. Among other tangible signs of his success are a swimming pool, a Cadillac convertible, a Thunderbird hardtop, a Pontiac station wagon and a Triumph motorcycle.
But perhaps nothing gives Foyt greater pleasure than the knowledge that he has cracked the road-racing barrier. Track drivers like Foyt, schooled in the wheel-to-wheel cut and thrust of midget, stock car and big car racing on oval tracks, where shifting gears is not required, have long had a tendency to sneer at the sports car and Grand Prix crowd, which prefers the subtler techniques and more varied terrain of the road courses. "Sporty car" is the most common epithet used by the track man to express his hostility. Sneering back, some road-racing enthusiasts have disparaged the track sport as "boring" and the drivers as unwashed ruffians.
This unfortunate gulf was widened last year at Indianapolis when Scotland's Jimmy Clark and America's Dan Gurney, both road-racing men, brilliantly invaded the track men's most hallowed ground with Lotus-Fords, products of Grand Prix design. As the Indy drivers correctly judged, many new spectators of the road-racing persuasion had come to the Brickyard for just one reason, and that was to see the Indianapolis roadsters humiliated by the Lotus-Fords.
But it has been the track crowd's turn to crow in recent months. Deflating the notion that "roundy-round" drivers could never make the transition to road racing, Foyt swept both of the big sports car races at Nassau last December, becoming the first driver in the meet's 10-year history to do so. First he whipped a fine international field in a Chevrolet-Scarab to take Nassau's Governor's Trophy. Two days later, as road-racing devotees choked on their rum and Cokes, he made the lesson stick by hustling the Scarab in first for the featured Nassau Trophy. He raced on even terms with Gurney in February's Daytona Beach American Challenge Cup, and defeated him when Gurney's car broke down. In March he startled spectators at the Sebring 12-hour race by overtaking 51 cars on the first lap. He had gotten away tardily in the Le Mans start, which is sort of a calf scramble with hubcaps. Then, just as he was settling down to race, his Chevrolet Corvette threw a wheel, spun around five times in a 1,000-foot skid, and tipped up and almost over. Foyt leaped from the car and ran back to the pits for another wheel. He put the car back together and finished 23rd.