When NASCAR made their first appearance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first Brickyard 400 back in 1994, a group of fans up in the stands held up a sign with a simple message.
“NASCAR, Welcome to the house that Foyt built!”
You would be hard pressed to find someone who would argue with that sentiment.
Anthony Joseph Foyt, Jr., better known to the world as A.J., came from a tough Texas background. Growing up in the Heights section of Houston, Foyt showed an early love for speed. He would show that love on short tracks all over the country, winning midget races and even occasional stock car events. He was known as a tough, tenacious driver who was out there to do one thing – win races.
He was a tough competitor, and woe to the driver, crew member, or member of the media that got in the way of “SuperTex” when he was angry.
Foyt succeeded everywhere. He was one of the few open wheel drivers to travel down south to race against the NASCAR racers and not only be competitive, but win several races, including the 1972 Daytona 500.
He went to Le Mans and was victorious in his only appearance at the storied road course, driving a Ford with co-driver Dan Gurney to the win.
He won on the Daytona road course in what’s now known as the Rolex 24.
In all, Foyt won 172 major races, including 67 Indy car wins, seven NASCAR trophies, and in doing so, won 12 national titles.
But the place that Foyt really measured up with was Indianapolis. They fit together like a hand in a glove.
His first appearance at the famed Brickyard resulted in a 16th place finish, taking home just under $3,000.
Foyt would keep coming back to Indy, and in 1961 the legend of SuperTex at the Brickyard was born. Foyt took his first Indy 500 win when Eddie Sachs had to stop for tires late. Foyt had been trying to catch Sachs after a pit miscue cost him an extra stop for fuel.
In 1964, the experts predicted the Ford powered machines would be the ones to beat. But Foyt showed up for the month of May with an older Offenhauser engine. Many said Foyt would have to work hard to keep up with the Blue Oval Brigade.
Foyt lapped the field on his way to his second Indy win.
He would again visit Indy’s victory lane in 1967, after Parnelli Jones’ famed turbine car experienced trouble near the end. Foyt was out front with one lap to go when a five-car crash occurred in front of him on the front stretch. A.J. weaved his way through to win.
After that win, Foyt would be locked out of Indy’s victory lane for ten years. Each year, SuperTex would travel to the famed 2.5 mile oval hoping to become the first driver to win four Indy 500s.
The bad luck streak finally was broken in 1977. But it wasn’t an easy win by any means.
Foyt ran out of fuel during the race, and had to overcome a 32-second deficit on Gordon Johncock. Foyt turned his Coyote’s turbo boost up, and was able to cut between 1.5 and 2 seconds per lap out of Johncock’s lead. Foyt was gambling that his engine would hold out. As Foyt closed, Johncock suddenly slowed, himself the victim of engine failure. Foyt sailed past into the history books.
It wasn’t just a win. It was the stuff legends are made of.
Along with the wins, Foyt holds some historic distinctions at Indy. He competed in 35 consecutive Indy 500s. He’s the only driver to win the 500 in both front and rear engined cars. He’s led the most Indy 500s with 13. He led at Indy 39 times, more than anyone else in their career.
He’s the only driver to have won Indy, the Daytona 500, the 24 hours of Le Mans, and the 24 hours of Daytona.
The incredible thing about Foyt was he could not only drive in any type car he took a notion to, but he was competitive and he won.
But if there was ever a place that Foyt seemed at home and in the groove, it was at Indy. Two other drivers were able to match A.J.’s mark at the Brickyard.