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A.J. Foyt, Kevin Cogan and the 1982 Indianapolis 500

Picture this:  A.J. Foyt, more disgusted and perturbed than usual, hammering on his car in the pits during the middle of the 1982 Indianapolis 500 as the crowd roars with delight.  For most race fans over the age of 40, it's an iconic moment in Indy history.

For A.J. ? Not so much.

There's a reason behind that, of course, and it's fairly simple.  Foyt thought - still thinks - he had a car capable of winning the race that year.  He had outlasted another infamous A.J. moment - a run-in with Kevin Coogan - as the field approached the start of the race, but Foyt's do-it-yourself moment later in the race remains part of 500 lore.

"I was just disgusted that we were running so bad," Foyt recalls.  "I wasn't very happy at that point.  I thought we had a winning car, but all of a sudden we were out of the race."

When he tried to leave the pits, the car stalled.  Foyt couldn't get it out of gear, so he took matters into his own hands, climbing from the cockpit and tapping on a screwdriver he'd placed on the right side of the gearbox.  It didn't work, and Foyt never returned to the track, finishing 19th in the 33-car field.

The gearbox wasn't what made Foyt angry.  "Coogan" was.  As the cars approached the green flag for the start of the race, Cogan, who was starting inside the front row, suddenly veered right into Foyt's No. 14 March/Cosworth.  The ensuring pileup took out Mario Andretti's car, but Foyt was able to make repairs and return in time for the restart.

Still, something wasn't right.  The crash had affected the car's alignment, and Foyt wasn't sure it would hold up.  "I told (chief mechanic) Jack (Starne) as I was going down the backstretch after the restart that I hope he got the thing lined up halfway right, " Foyt said.  "Down in turns 3 and 4, we were pretty good.  We were running well there, but 1 and 2 were the problem."

Just short of the halfway point, Foyt rumbled into the pits, still in contention.  Suddenly the gearbox locked and Foyt was out of the car searching for tools.  It wasn't the first time A.J. had been his own mechanic.  "I used to do a lot of my own personal work,"  he remembered.  "I had a lot of great guys working for me, but I was kind of the leader for everything."

The repair didn't work, and Foyt was left fuming in the pits with a disabled car.  What followed was a series of Foyt one-liners that became legendary.  When Chris Economaki asked about the crash, Foyt said, "He ran right square into my goddamned left front."  When Economaki asked who he was talking about, Foyt blurted, "Coogan!"

To this day, Foyt remembers the reason for his anger, and this time he doesn't mispronounce anything.  "I felt like we did have a winning car, " Foyt said.  "And then what's-his-name pulled that stupid deal at the start of the race - Cogan - that messed everything up."

It was the first time Foyt had led the first lap of an Indy 500 in his 25-year career.  It was also the last time he led the race.  "We could have won that race," he says, still dejected nearly 29 years after the fact.  Indeed, with a break or two, 1982 might have been Foyt's fifth victory.

In spite of the historic/comic 1982 debacle, Foyt, a longtime INDYCAR team owner, looks back fondly on his driving years at Indy.  A record-tying four wins, 35 starts (records for 500 starts in a career and consecutively), 10 top-five finishes and 12,272.5 miles.

"I had a lot of good years there, he said.  "I always had a lot of fun at Indy.  The rest of the races were just sort of fill-ins.  Indy was always my main goal.  It was the reason I raced."

 

 

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