Indy 500 kingmakers Foyt, Penske begin plotting their future
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) A.J. Foyt and Roger Penske are as much a part of the Indianapolis 500 as the pagoda and Gasoline Alley, icons of such stature that they're identifiable only by their first names.
''There's A.J.,'' fans say, ''and there's Roger.''
Together, the two men have shaped ''The Greatest Spectacle in Racing'' in ways neither could have ever imagined. Foyt has been a presence since the 1950s, winning four times before becoming a team owner, and Penske has been coming since the `60s, reaching victory lane 16 times with his venerable team.
Foyt turned 82 in January, though. Penske turned 80 a month later. And that begs a question: What will the future hold for two of IndyCar's iconic teams?
''With any Penske plan,'' Team Penske president Tim Cindric said, ''it evolves over time.''
Besides, Cindric added, ''Roger will be the first to tell you, `Don't get in a line until I'm gone.'''
Foyt is already four years into his succession plan, turning the day-to-day operations over to his son, Larry. He acknowledged earlier this year that he would have had to shutter the team if that had not occurred, advancing age and declining health having wreaked havoc on his once-able body.
This year, Larry Foyt put arguably his biggest stamp yet on the team. Chevrolet replaced Honda as its manufacturer, and Conor Daly, Zach Veach and Carlos Munoz have replaced Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato in the drivers' seats for Sunday's race. The team even has a new technical director, Will Phillips, after Don Halliday retired at the end of last season.
A.J. still loves being around the track. He still loves the cars and the people and the energy that come with May in Indianapolis. But he no longer has such a hands-on role with the team.
''He loves this place,'' Larry said. ''I love seeing big A.J. with the grandkids. With them living up in Indy and A.J. in Texas a lot of times, this is a great time for them to see grandpa and hang out.''
Penske, on the other hand, is still involved in every aspect of Team Penske, whether it is the five-car effort for this year's Indy 500 or his successful two-car NASCAR team.
The Captain is even the race strategist for three-time winner Helio Castroneves.
''I don't think Roger's happy if he's not winning. That's the whole mentality of Team Penske,'' said Simon Pagenaud, one of his drivers. ''We're not here to be second, third or fourth. The goal is win races. That's why Roger brought five cars this month. It's because his love of Indy is huge.''
The love for Indy is nearly as big for Penske's children, too.
Much like the Foyt family, racing has always been a family affair. His son Jay has been involved in the IndyCar team for years, while his three other sons and his daughter, Blair, have always supported the racing side of the Penske empire. Greg Penske even had a hand in speedway construction.
Yet trying to discern the exact succession plan is about as fruitless as trying to guess when Penske will retire. Those close to him acknowledge a plan is probably in place - Penske is a meticulous planner, after all - but only his inner-most circle knows any details.
''As far as a legacy plan,'' Cindric said, ''I'm confident that will arrive at the right time.''
Whenever the two Indy 500 kingmakers step aside, other owners are ready to step into the void.
Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing are Indy 500 mainstays, and three new owners have brought cars this year. The highlight has been McLaren's return after decades away, with former F1 champ Fernando Alonso, while local construction magnate Mike Harding has assembled a one-car entry for Gabby Chaves and Indy Lights owner Ricardo Juncos has a two-car effort for Spencer Pigot and Sebastian Saavedra.
''One of our goals is to get new owners and new young teams into the Verizon IndyCar Series,'' said Jay Frye, the president of operations for the series. ''We're glad they jumped in.''
The biggest hurdle to new ownership has always been economics. It takes about $3 million to put together a modest effort for the Indy 500, and that doesn't include testing and other expenses that push the price of competing at the front toward eight figures.
That's not as much of a problem for established owners. It is for newcomers.
''Not just IndyCar has that challenge. Formula One does. All racing,'' said McLaren boss Zak Brown, who has floated the idea this week of a longer-term commitment to IndyCar. ''I think you have to look around at other series, as well, who might want to come IndyCar racing. Unfortunately, that might be to the detriment of another series, but that's how the world works.''
Juncos hopes to keep building his IndyCar program, but his focus is only on this weekend.
''It's no magic formula here, team owner's manual,'' he said. ''Going forward, I don't know. We know what happened today. We kind of focus on the moment without planning too much.''
Foyt and Penske are focused on the moment, too. But there is plenty of planning going on in their race shops, not only for this weekend and this season but far into the future.
''All I know,'' said Cindric, long Penske's right-hand man, ''is the Penske name is going to carry on in racing long beyond Roger's legacy.''
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