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Don’t Mess with Texas: Foyt, Chambliss Bond over Shared Love of Speed at IMS

It’s not every day that you get to meet A.J. Foyt.

Although Kirby Chambliss is respected as a legendary pilot with two Red Bull Air Race World Championships, he couldn’t have been more thrilled to be visited at his airplane hangar by Foyt on Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I grew up watching him,” Chambliss said of Foyt, 83, who is back at his favorite track to serve as grand marshal for the Red Bull Air Race on Sunday. “There’s not many chances anymore I get to say that. It’s always somebody else saying that about me.

"It was fantastic. He's such a legend. And he’s funny and a really nice guy.”

Chambliss, 58, was excited that the first four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and all-time IndyCar victories leader wanted to meet him. Foyt was unable to attend last year’s Air Race due to health issues but refused to let July back surgery and a subsequent staph infection keep him home this year. He informed longtime public relations assistant Anne Fornoro, “I’m going, come hell or high water.”

So a couple of Texans shook hands, exchanged pleasantries and then Foyt started asking questions about the airplane that Chambliss flies at about 230 mph, about the same speed that Foyt used to drive his Indy cars down the front straight of IMS before retiring in 1993.

“Texans are kind of hard-headed,” Foyt said with a smile. “That’s what makes (Chambliss) good.”

Chambliss, who won his World Championships in 2004 and 2006, has 10 career Air Race wins, including two last year.

Foyt is the only driver to win the Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But there’s always something special about when the Hall of Famer returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where “Super Tex” won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in 1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977.

“It’s been a great place,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed racing here. Indianapolis is what made A.J. Foyt. I’ve won a lot of 500-mile races, but the world knows when you do something here.”

As much as Foyt enjoyed checking out the cockpit of a “beautiful” plane, he answered quickly when asked if he would take a two-seater ride with Chambliss.

“No, I’m kinda chicken,” he said in somewhat of a joke. “I haven’t healed up enough.”

Foyt suggested that he might have enjoyed such thrill-seeking when he was younger and flying his own planes, but not now.

“Smart man,” Chambliss said with a nod.

It’s also wise to call a legend by his preferred name. Don't say Mr. Foyt.

“That’s my name, A.J.,” Foyt said. “A lot of people say Mr. Foyt, and I say: ‘That’s not my name. I’m A.J.’ I’ve straightened out a lot of people who have called me Mr. Foyt.

“I’ve lived here in Indianapolis probably as much as Texas. It’s just something you look forward to and try to live to go back every year. I’ll be coming back every year until they plant me.”

The Challenger Class race starts at 11:45 a.m. Sunday. The Master Class Round of 14 starts at 1:05 p.m., followed by the Round of 8 at 3:05 p.m. and the Final 4 at 3:35 p.m.

Red Bull Air Race tickets are available at www.IMS.com. Children 15 and under are admitted free to general admission areas Sunday when accompanied by an adult general admission ticket holder.

A variety of World of Red Bull athletes will demonstrate their skills Sunday, both in the air and on the ground. Performers include Geoff Aaron (motorcycle trials riding), Aaron Colton (motorcycle street freestyle riding), Robbie Maddison (freestyle motocross with the SCSUNLIMITED team), Luke Aikins and Miles Daisher (Red Bull Air Force Skydive Team), Aaron Fitzgerald (The Flying Bulls aerobatic helicopter), Jim Peitz (aerobatic airplane) and Pal Takats (paragliding).

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