A.J. Foyt sits quietly recounting stories in the back of his garage at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
At 78, the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner has less hair, a softer voice and a crankier back than he used to. He also has something else: Less responsibility and a resurgent team.
Yes, after coming to this 2.5-mile oval every year since 1958, Foyt has finally decided to be more of a backseat owner.
“He’s about 100 percent in charge now,” Foyt said, explaining that he’s given his adopted son, Larry, almost full authority to run the team. “Before that, it was probably 50 to 75 percent. I’ve put him in full charge, and, you know, the kids are closer to his age anyway.”
In many ways, the changes were borne out of pure necessity.
Foyt struggled with sciatic pain in his left leg late last year, but the feisty Texan convinced himself he could tough it out. When he went back to fine-tuning IndyCars and digging ditches, the pain became so excruciating he was actually talked into trying acupuncture treatment by his driver, Takuma Sato. When that didn’t work, he finally opted for surgery in April -- one week after his wife, Lucy, also had back surgery.
Suddenly, Foyt was out of the garage for three races while someone else took charge of everything from the day-to-day operations to radio calls.
The switch couldn’t have worked out better.
Sato finished 14th at Alabama, then won at Long Beach to become the first Japanese driver to win an IndyCar race. Two weeks later, Sato came within an eyelash of a second straight win, finishing second in Brazil as he took the points lead.
All Foyt could do was watch his once powerful IndyCar team surge back to prominence as he cheered the team on from Houston.
“To be truthful, I would have been happy to have been there in California,” Foyt said. “But I was happier for the team and the crew that I wasn’t because I’ve been there. I just wanted them to have that experience.”
Make no mistake, Foyt has not ceded total control.
He still shows up at team headquarters in Houston almost daily and still plans to be on the radio for the May 26 race -- if Sato and his second driver rookie Conor Daly make the 33-car starting grid as expected. And, of course, those running the show do expect Foyt to speak his mind now and then.
Andretti tops speed chart
Marco Andretti posted the fastest Indianapolis 500 practice speed of the month Monday, turning a fast lap of 225.100 mph on the 2.5-mile oval.
It was the second straight day an Andretti Autosport driver held the top spot. Colombia’s Carlos Munoz, a rookie, was the fastest driver Sunday.
Warmer temperatures and brighter skies created much better conditions from the first two days of practice at Indy, and it showed. Andretti and three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves each topped 225 mph. The Brazilian posted a lap of 225.075 mph as he tries to become the fourth driver to win four times at Indy.
Defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay was third at 224.386. Australia’s Will Power was fourth at 223.784 and Panther Racing’s J.R. Hildebrand was fifth at 223.624.