Young Foyt Feeling Comfortable In Big Saddle At Indy

Monday, April 21, 2003

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When Anthony Joseph Foyt IV was 5, he rode his horse into the gate at tracks like Churchill Downs and practice starts.

"I was real small, and I thought I was going to be a jockey," he said. "I didn't know I was going to be 6-foot tall."

On April 21 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway - 118 miles north of Churchill Downs - Foyt IV saddled up his 675-horsepower mount and rode it out on to the most famous auto racing track in the world for the first time. It was a historic moment in the 87-year history of the Indianapolis 500 because, one, he still was 34 days shy of his 19th birthday, and, two, his trainer is his grandfather A.J. Foyt Jr., one of the greatest drivers in the annals of motor racing.

Young Foyt was one of seven drivers participating in the Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program. Passing four speed phases allows a driver to participate when the track opens for practice and qualifications Sunday, May 4. Foyt IV quickly passed the first three in the morning session in the No. 14 Conseco Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, reaching speeds in the 218-mph range. Then he completed the final phase above 220 mph in the afternoon.

Foyt IV was on his way to taking over the family legacy at Indianapolis, where his grandfather became the first four-time 500 winner and competed in the race a record 35 times through 1992.

And who was most nervous Monday, grandfather or grandson?

"Well, I ain't nervous," the elder Foyt snorted in reply to the question. "I wouldn't be here if I was nervous, first of all. And I just want to see him do a good job. Nothing to be nervous about.

"I look at him on the racetrack (as) he's not my grandson. He's another race driver for A.J. Foyt Enterprises. Off the racetrack, he's my grandson, so I don't look at it that way."

Foyt IV - he's called Anthony - admitted he was nervous Sunday night and again in the morning before heading out to the pits to make his debut on the same surface where his grandfather had made so much history. His car carries the same No. 14 that the elder Foyt helped make famous.

"When you get buckled in the car you just get out there," Anthony Foyt said. "It's what I love to do, and I'm happy when I'm inside the car.

"It definitely was awesome walking through Gasoline Alley coming out here getting ready to get into the car. It's something I dreamed about for a really long time, and my dream's already coming true at such a young age. I'm just really thankful for the opportunity my grandfather has given me to try to make this race."

At 18, Foyt IV is the youngest driver ever to complete the Rookie Orientation Program.

A.J. Foyt first took his grandson around the Speedway's 2 ½-mile oval in a passenger car when Anthony was a youngster. Last Saturday, grandpa took him on another passenger car journey around the track.

"I think we were out there like for 45 minutes just showing me the lines," Anthony said. "I'm thankful I've got somebody like that, a master of this place, to help me and teach me.

"I just try to listen to whatever he says, and whatever line he thinks is the best is what I try to run. He's succeeded in every kind of race car he ever drove, on every track he's ever been to. Why wouldn't you listen to him?"

The senior Foyt passed his rookie indoctrination and qualified for his first Indianapolis 500 45 years ago in May. There was no ROP then. Three stripes were placed on the rear of cars being driven by rookies, and they practiced along with the veterans.

"It was pretty nerve-wracking," said Foyt, 68. "You just had to get it right away and get ready to qualify."

About his grandson's rookie experience, he said:

"I thought he did good, yeah," he said. "I mean, we could have finished all four phases (in the morning), but I felt like he went through the first three and looked real good going through Turn 1 where I was sitting. I just wanted to take a break and let him think about it and go back this afternoon and try to finish up."

The Indianapolis 500 will be the modest Anthony's fourth race in the Indy Racing League IndyCar™ Series, and he admits he struggled in the first two races as the youngest competitor. He felt the he and the team's communication was coming together better in the Indy Japan 300 on April 13 at Twin Ring Motegi, but then he made a "stupid mistake" on cold tires and crashed. He was running 12th at the time.

"I think he knows I'm going to make stupid mistakes like I did, but he knows I'm out there trying my hardest and giving all I had," Anthony said of his grandfather's expectations. "So he wasn't really mad at me. I think he was more worried how I was after the crash than about the car.

"He's been really good with me. He's been hard with me. But I need somebody like that. Right now at a young age, I need somebody to tell me what to do and, you know, how to do it."

Anthony is the son of A.J.'s oldest son, A.J. III, who formerly handled Foyt's horse racing stable. Through his early years, Anthony was around racehorses more than race cars.

"When my dad trained horses, I'd just follow along," he said. "It was just a regular horse. It wasn't a racehorse. I'd go in the gates and go out of the gates like I was going to race. I was just practicing, I thought."

Then as he approached school age, young Foyt's father decided it was time to return to south Texas and help A.J. with the family ranch. Anthony received a junior drag racer from his Uncle Jerry and a friend at age 9. Then he moved to karts, and now here he is at Indy with the chance to become the youngest starter in "500" history. He'll turn 19 on Race Day, May 25.

The Kentucky Derby will take place May 3, the day before the 87th Indianapolis 500 opens. Where will Anthony Joseph Foyt IV be?

"I'll be here, I'll be here," he said.