Race Driver A.J. Foyt Was Fired Up for the Indy 500, but Then He Sputtered and Burned

updated 06/10/1985 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/10/1985 01:00AM

Your name is A.J. Foyt. You're 50 years old, and you've won the Indianapolis 500 four times—more than any other man. They say you're the best race-car driver ever, but what do you know? You're still just a good ole boy from Texas who loves to floor it. You've spent most of your life behind the wheel, racing on dirt tracks, on pavement and on the swanky European circuit, where they serve fish with the head still on. All you care about is winning. They say you've got a hot temper. They say you yell and scream at your crew if they forget the Gatorade. You remember the days when you used to settle things with fistfights. You liked that. But that was years ago, when racing was pure. All you care about is winning. And today, for the 28th time in your long career, you're wheel-to-wheel with the best on Indy's deadly curves.

On the 62nd lap, traveling at nearly 200 mph, you notice the right front wing, one of those fancy airfoils that help stabilize the car, isn't working. Damn. You pull into the pit and tell the crew to fix it. They don't move. They don't know what you're talking about. They think you want to gas up. The fuel man runs to the car and starts filling it up. Now you're really mad. You're so mad you yank the steering wheel off the column and jump out of the car. You stomp over to the tool chest. You'll fix it yourself, damn it. You don't need the crew. You started out as a mechanic, so you know as much as they do. You should fire them all.

The fans behind the rail have caught on. They love it. They're cheering you on. You push the fuel man out of the way. Gas splatters all over the car, and suddenly it's on fire. You grab a bucket of water and throw it on the flames. The fire is out, but the car is finished. So are you. You won't win this Indy, you won't even finish the race.

The fans are going crazy. You pull yourself together, straighten your silver racing suit and march off the track. The fans are cheering. They love you, no matter what. You're a legend in your own time. But all this is beginning to get to you: the pressure, the little things that go wrong. As you walk away you begin to think of a new line of work, something that won't get you so excited every time the tiniest little thing goes wrong. You think about all the money you've made and the stable of Thoroughbred horses you've bought. Your son, A.J. Ill, has been training them. Someday you will run in the Kentucky Derby. And maybe someday even win it. But what if your horse doesn't finish first? What if your horse pulls up short, like your car did today? Simple. You fire your son.

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