HE EDGES THE HONDA DOWN THE ROAD THAT LINES THE FIELDS, WHERE bands of broodmares are grazing with the cattle. Past the watering troughs and the hay barn, up past the oaks and the pond with a jetty reaching out almost to the middle of it. "My father wired all this, ran the lights," Foyt says, his arm sweeping the pens and sheds. "I dug the pond. See that strip of land? I built that so my mother could drive her little motor home out there and fish off it. I got it stocked with bass. Call it Nanny's Lake...."
Up beyond Nanny's Lake, Foyt pulls off the road and parks the car next to the large orange work shed. Stepping inside the shed, he points straight up, to the runners on which the sliding doors operated. "This was the last building Daddy wired," he says. "I closed the door one day and looked up, and there it was. I thought, I'll be goddamned! There's that hammer I've been looking for for over a year. I said to one of the workers, 'You're not going to believe where the old man left that hammer. Look right above your head.' I ain't never taking it down."
Because the ranch was where he and his father worked side by side, A.J. moving the earth, Tony doing the plumbing and the wiring, today it serves as a monument to their work—the hedges trimmed and the lawns edged and clipped around a spacious brick house that sits on a circular drive behind stone gates crowned with concrete horses' heads. Foyt is out there, on the seat of that chuffing bulldozer, trying to unearth what he still longs for, as if father love were a lost city that he will find if he just keeps digging. The place represents, for him, an unending search for the missing and inexpressible. Five years ago a friend of Foyt's, commentator Jack Arute of ABC and ESPN, asked him to define "love, love of your family."
Foyt replied, "It's hard for me to.... I probably don't show partiality to nobody. No individual. I've had a lot of people say, 'You just don't love nobody.' I guess I do, but I guess I'm kind of like my father. It's hard for me to show.... I guess what I have love for more than anything is work. I love to get on my bulldozer. I love to take land and clear it and try to make it pretty."
ANTHONY JOSEPH FOYT JR. HAS BEEN CHALLENGING his corner of the world, largely on his own terms, since he first crawled into the little red open-wheel racer with the Briggs-Stratton engine that his father gave him to patrol the yard in when he was three. When he wore that out, Tony built him a midget-type racer that could hit 50 mph, and one night, at the old Houston Speed Bowl, Tony arranged for A.J. to challenge a leading adult driver, Doc Cossey, to a three-lap duel. Little A.J. led Cossey into the first turn, to the cheering of the crowds, threw it sideways into the dirt corners, to even louder roars, and came charging home in front, to an ovation.
He was five. And, for then and forever, a race car driver.
The family lived in the Heights, a working-class section in north Houston, not far from the garage where Tony worked on other people's cars—he kept his own race cars at home. A.J. spent hours at his father's knee, poking under hoods and chassis, learning how things worked. "When I was a little bitty kid, I'd do anything just to be with him," A.J. says. Just as his mother embraced him, so his father disciplined him. "A.J. was very afraid of his dad," says Lucy. When A.J. was 11, with the help of friends he took his father's midget car off the trailer, fired up the flathead Ford V-8 and rode it around the yard like a cowboy on a bull, nearly tearing off a corner of the house and turning the yard into a plowed field. The ride ended when the engine burst into flames, bubbling the paint on the hood.
Waiting for the whipping, A.J. was in bed when his parents came home that night, and he could hear his father roaring toward the bedroom. Tony snatched him out of bed, and the boy could hear his mother pleading, "Please don't whip him, please don't whip him," and above that his father yelling, "You do something like that again, I'll beat you to death!"