FOYT'S BOAT IS IN
This is an article from the May 25, 1998 issue
Tough old A.J. Foyt is huffing and puffing and blowing some life
into the Indianapolis 500. When the race has its 82nd running,
on Sunday, a Foyt-owned car will start on the pole for the first
time since 1975, when he was also the car's driver. Another of
Foyt's cars will start on the outside of the front row.
That pole sitter Billy Boat and teammate Kenny Brack are
relatively unknown drivers--typical of the last three Indy
fields--hardly matters. Their 63-year-old boss has returned to
the limelight at the Brickyard, where he won a record four Indy
500s, the last in '77. Foyt has also become one of the
staunchest defenders of the struggling Indy Racing League,
frequently throwing verbal jabs at rival CART teams, which have
been boycotting Indy since 1996.
"I like putting two cars on the front row--it puts me in a
category with Roger Penske," Foyt said last Saturday, taking a
subtle shot at CART's most revered car owner, after Boat
qualified with a four-lap average of 223.503 mph and Brack at
220.982 in Aurora-powered Dallaras. Another obscure driver, Greg
Ray of Plano, Texas, will start between the Foyt cars after
covering the famed 2.5-mile oval at 221.125 mph.
As for household names, Indy will be without them--but it will
still be Indy, says Foyt. "So many people have put the mouth on
this place, and that has upset me," he says, "because you
wouldn't know me, you wouldn't know Penske, you wouldn't know
the Andrettis, if it weren't for this place."
Now there's a new crop of drivers Foyt intends to turn into
stars. When Foyt's primary driver, Scott Sharp, suffered a
concussion in a crash during practice 18 days before the race
last year, he called on Boat, 32, whom he'd first noticed on the
midget-car circuit in the early '90s. "A.J. had enough
confidence in me to put me in his car," Boat said last Saturday.
"We finished seventh and began the relationship we have today."
Brack, a 32-year-old Swede, was a Formula 3000 driver in Europe
before venturing into the IRL with Galles Racing last year. He
subbed for the injured Davy Jones at Indy, started 15th and was
sidelined immediately--caught in a pace lap wreck. "I'd watched
him on some of the other ovals," Foyt said of Brack, who led IRL
races at Phoenix, Las Vegas and Loudon, N.H. "He just seemed
like a nice kid."
Foyt has been rejuvenated by the fact that IRL technical
regulations allow him to come up with his own mechanical
innovations, something he didn't have the freedom to do with
CART, which in 1990 began allowing manufacturers to lease
engines with the stipulation that teams couldn't modify them. "I
can call my engine people now and say, 'Here's some new cams I
had made; let's try this.' With the other one"--he refuses to
dignify CART by calling it by name--"you can't touch the motor.
You just pay a lot of lease money, and at the end of the season
you have nothing. This is getting back to racing as it was in
the '60s and '70s. In '77 I won with a car we'd designed and
built in Texas, and an engine we'd built, and I drove. It was
very satisfying to be in Victory Lane that day. The same as it
would be Sunday."
Indy's New Format
SHORTER IS SWEETER
Go ahead and call the shortening of Indy's traditional Month of
May a success. By reducing the number of practice days from 16
to eight and qualifying days from four to two, Indy has fallen
into line with the race that has supplanted it as America's best
motor sports event, the Daytona 500. Pole day at the Brickyard
now comes eight days before race day instead of 15. That's
enough buildup for any event.
The new format did force some teams to scramble last weekend
because pole day and bubble day (the last chance to qualify)
were back-to-back, rather than eight days apart. In the past
teams could spend up to a week preparing to qualify with light
fuel tanks, special chassis setups and engines that sacrificed
reliability for quick power. This time teams had to alternate
between qualifying setups and more conservative race setups, and
"that interrupted our flow," says defending champ Arie Luyendyk,
who had little time to solve several engine problems last
weekend and as a result will start 28th in the field of 33 on
All in the Family
ANOTHER UNSER ROOKIE AT INDY
A sixth member of the Unser clan qualified to drive for the
first time this year at Indy, and the rookie has an advisory
committee that boasts a collective nine wins in the 500. Robby
Unser, 30, the youngest son of three-time Indy winner Bobby,
nephew of four-time winner Al and cousin of two-time winner Al
Jr., will start in row 7 on Sunday.
That committee also lends support to Johnny Unser, 39, son of
Bobby's and Al's elder brother, Jerry, who died of injuries
suffered in a crash during practice at the Brickyard in 1959.
Johnny--a junior high teacher and coach in Sun Valley, Idaho,
who's not as active in racing as his kin--will be making his
third consecutive Indy start, this time in row 9.
The number of racing movies in various stages of production,
including a Formula One film to star Sylvester Stallone, a
NASCAR action-romance and a feature-length version of the
cartoon show Speed Racer.