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Foyt Back in Familiar Spot For Opening Day at IMS

A.J. Foyt leaned against a table in his familiar Gasoline Alley garage, a modest grin on his face as he listened to family and friends.

Garage A-1 is where the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner holds court each May. It’s a second home for the man whose name is synonymous with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

Everybody knows that’s A.J.’s spot.

But something is different Sunday morning. Foyt pulls away from the table and takes a moment to straighten himself. He hobbles, teetering side to side for a few steps to greet another visitor.

If the 80-year-old racing legend appears a bit tired, that’s understandable. He underwent triple bypass surgery on Nov. 12 in Houston.

Still, he’s back at the track.

“Barely,” Foyt said with a reserved smile.

“It feels good. I had a pretty rough winter. It was just kind of one of those fluke deals that happen. I guess that’s life.”

The 25-day hospital stay was the longest of his life, this for a man who has crashed his body into bits in a historic racing career with a record 67 Indy car victories and seven series championships. This is the only driver to have won the Indy 500, Daytona 500 and 24 Hours of LeMans. In addition to four Indy 500 wins as a driver, he celebrated another win as an owner of Kenny Brack’s triumphant 1999 ride.

But as much as Foyt is larger than life, he’s human.

One minute, he’s experiencing chest pains. The next, doctors are cracking his chest open to keep him alive. Post-surgery complications kept him on a ventilator for eight days.

A.J. Foyt Racing released a statement at the time: “I had some problems that most people don't have after open heart surgery,” Foyt said, “so I made my doctors work extra hard but they saved my life. We’ve turned a corner so everything's pretty good. I've got a long way to go, but I'm feeling better every day.”

His 80th birthday was Jan. 16, but he spent it back in the hospital.

“It wasn’t a very good birthday present,” he said.

If any place can put some pep in his step, it’s IMS. Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth are Foyt’s Verizon IndyCar Series drivers this month. Racing teams used Sunday to work on car setups with the new body kits on the oval.

On Thursday, the cars will switch to road-course racing in preparation for Saturday’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Then it’s back to business for the 99th Indy 500 on May 24th.

“Actually, I’m feeling pretty good, considering,” Foyt said. “Still swinging. Just not very high.”

His stay was brief. Foyt had decided to return to Texas for three days.

He joked with his crew, “I’ve got some mowing to do.”

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