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Foyt Flourished behind Wheel of Indy Cars and Stock Cars

As the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, NASCAR Xfinity and NASCAR Cup Series prepare for this weekend’s tripleheader at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it creates some tremendous possibilities for the future.

Some of the biggest names in the history of the INDYCAR, however, have achieved some legendary wins in NASCAR. Mario Andretti won the 1967 Daytona 500, two years before he scored his only Indianapolis 500 victory in 1969.

A.J. Foyt was already a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and won three of his seven total NTT INDYCAR SERIES titles, known then as the “National Championship” when he won his first career NASCAR Cup Series race in 1964.

That victory came in the Firecracker 400 at Daytona when he drove car owner Ray Nichels’ Dodge to victory on July 4, 1964. Foyt would go on to win seven NASCAR Cup Series contests in his career and was, by far, the most successful INDYCAR driver in NASCAR competition. He drove in his final NASCAR race in the inaugural Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on August 6, 1994.

Twenty-six years later, more motorsports history will happen as INDYCAR and NASCAR Xfinity compete on the same racecourse in the same day. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams compete in the GMR Grand Prix at noon (ET), followed by the NASCAR Xfinity Series Pennzoil 150 at 3 p.m. ET.

The NASCAR Cup Series hits the legendary 2.5-mile oval on Sunday for the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 Presented by Big Machine Records at 4 p.m.

All three races will be televised live by NBC.

Foyt remains a key part of INDYCAR as a team owner. Drivers Charlie Kimball and Dalton Kellett will compete in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix. The 85-year-old Foyt will watch from his home in Houston, as he plays it safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would be there this year if things weren’t screwed around with the virus,” Foyt said. “I’m at the age where I don’t need that to kill me.

“Race cars didn’t do it, so why do I need the disease to kill me?”

Still cantankerous with a fighting spirit as legendary as his reputation, Foyt believes this year’s tripleheader at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway could be the start of more opportunities to come between the two series.

“When it comes to opportunity, INDYCAR could maybe pick up some of the NASCAR fans,” Foyt said of the unique pairing. “That could play both ways and help both series. INDYCAR fans may see the stock cars run and they could become fans and some of the NASCAR fans that see Indy may become INDYCAR fans. I think that’s a good thing.

“Fans won’t be allowed in this year, but you’ll have all the races on TV, at least. You have some hardcore NASCAR fans and some hardcore INDYCAR fans. They might watch the other. You hope it works like that, but you never know. But that is a good possibility.”

Foyt’s NASCAR career began Jan. 20, 1963 in the Riverside 500, a race that lasted 5 hours, 53 minutes and 20 seconds, a 500-mile race around a 2.700-mile road course. He started second and finished second that day to the great American road racer, a Formula One and Indianapolis 500 driver named Dan Gurney. Foyt also competed in the 1963 Daytona 500 for Nichels but ran the Atlanta and July Daytona contests for master innovator Smokey Yunick.

Already one of America’s biggest racing stars, Foyt was eager for new opportunities in racing. That is why he had a lengthy career as a part-time driver in NASCAR.

“I always liked to go next door and challenge,” Foyt said. “I always loved the challenge all of my life. That’s why I was fortunate to have won what I won in midgets, sprints and stock cars. I always liked a different type of car just to challenge to see what I could do. Nowadays, a lot of people drive just one type of race car.

“I always asked, ‘Could I drive that other race car, or can I not drive that race car?’ That was my own self, the challenge.”

Although Foyt had expressed interest in adding a few stock car races to his schedule, it was more complicated back then because of the different rules between the United States Auto Club (USAC), which sanctioned INDYCAR competition at the time, and NASCAR.

“I always wanted to run a NASCAR race, but before you got to do that you had to have won a full FIA international race,” Foyt said. “At that time, Indianapolis had Formula One points. You could run in NASCAR and not get barred. After that, some of the big races I went to in NASCAR, Bill France got them to be full FIA International events so the USAC guys could come over there and not get barred.

“One year, (two-time Indianapolis 500 winner) Rodger Ward went down to NASCAR before all of us, and I wanted to know why I couldn’t go? I would have been suspended because I had not won Indy yet and didn’t have FIA International points.

“When I went down there, I knew Ray Nichels because he had worked on Indy cars. Then I got to know Paul Goldsmith really well. I said, ‘Paul, get me a ride over there.’ That’s how it all came about, through Paul Goldsmith.”

Goldsmith was a nine-time NASCAR winner from 1956-69. He also competed in eight USAC INDYCAR contests, including six Indianapolis 500s. He drove the Demler Special to a fifth-place finish in the 1959 500-Mile Race and was third in the dramatic 1960 Indianapolis 500 duel that featured a then-race record 29 lead changes with Jim Rathmann defeating Ward. Foyt was 25th in that year’s “500.”

In 1964, Foyt ran four races for car owner Banjo Matthews before returning to Nichels at Daytona for the Firecracker 400. He started 19th and finished in victory lane for his first career NASCAR win. This came just six weeks after he won his second Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 1964, the last time a front-engine roadster would win at Indy.

“The biggest thing that I was so happy about was I was the first one from Chrysler to win a major race with a Dodge,” Foyt said. “When I was going down the back straightaway, there were two or three cars when I was trying to get back to the lead that tried to block me. I went down across the bottom of the apron to get to the front. Art Lamey of Champion Spark Plug said that was the first time he read the No. 47 on that Dodge on both sides coming to the checkered flag because it was sideways.

“The Fourth of July at Daytona, man, it was so hot, it would cook you in the car. We didn’t have all those nice cool suits back then like they do now.”

Foyt won his second Firecracker 400 in 1965 driving for the famed Wood Brothers Racing team from Stuart, Virginia.

“The Indy engine program was the big reason, and I got to be friends with Edsel Ford. Tony Hulman wanted me to drive for them. The Ford Motor Company was very good to me. All of the Fords blew up except me in 1965. I was pretty far ahead. I had a pit stop, and I was more or less home free. I was the only one running.

“Back then, we were running faster at Daytona by 20 miles an hour than we were at Indy back then. I enjoyed going to somebody else’s backyard to see how I could run with them. I pushed myself to do it. That’s the way I love racing. I don’t think drivers today are able to do that, but we didn’t get the money they are getting today. It wasn’t about the money to me; it was about the challenge.

“I always loved the challenge.”

In 1966, another INDYCAR driver joined Foyt at Riverside and Daytona. He was the defending USAC INDYCAR champion from 1965, Mario Andretti. His accomplishments in stock cars at that time weren’t nearly as successful as Foyt’s, but that all changed in 1967 when Andretti shocked NASCAR with a Daytona 500 victory.

“The one that always run NASCAR more than he did INDYCAR was Paul Goldsmith,” Foyt said. “Then, Mario Andretti picked it up.

“Mario ran his car so loose at Daytona in 1967, that the regular NASCAR guys were afraid to get close to him. They thought he was about to spin out on every lap. I always ran my car loose, too.

“The NASCAR guys didn’t like when we came down there and beat them at their own game. But I have to say one thing, the France family always treated me real nice. Even when I couldn’t afford to pay for my plane ticket, they would send me an airplane ticket.”

Andretti competed in 14 NASCAR Cup races from 1966 to 1969. His 1967 Daytona 500 win was his only victory. Foyt competed in 128 NASCAR Cup races from 1963 until 1994. He had seven wins, including his biggest stock car win of all, the 1972 Daytona 500 for the Wood Brothers.

Foyt won that race by nearly two laps over Charlie Glotzbach. It was the best stock car Foyt had ever driven.

“We got to be real close friends,” Foyt said of the Wood Brothers. “We still talk to each other. They are probably some of the best people I ever drove with. The Wood Brothers taught everybody about fast pit stops. They came up and pitted Jimmy Clark at the 1965 Indianapolis 500. It was the Wood Brothers that started those fast pit stops.

“They are my kind of people. I was never one of the big shot people. I was just A.J. A lot of people call me Mr. Foyt today; well, I’m just A.J.

Foyt, a rough and tough Texan from Houston, fit in well with the NASCAR drivers at that time who were mostly from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Alabama.

Although he was the biggest name in racing and the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, he was widely respected and accepted by the regular NASCAR contingent of drivers.

“I fit in with them good, and that’s what they liked me,” Foyt said. “Guys like the Allisons and Junior Johnson and those guys. We got along good. If I asked them anything or needed anything, they would always try to help me.”

Every February, Foyt returns to the Daytona 500 and is honored in the pre-race driver’s meeting as a former Daytona 500 winner. Every year, Foyt returns to the Indianapolis 500 and is treated as the greatest legend of them all.

This weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Foyt can feel a special bond to both INDYCAR and NASCAR. That’s because he was a winner in whatever he drove.

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