Mike Conway in the A.J. Foyt ABC Supply #14 at the Milwaukee Mile for Milwaukee IndyFest. [John Wiedemann Photo]
The Legend Of A.J. Foyt And The Milwaukee Mile
by Steve Zautke
Foyt's Versatility Showcased at The Mile
A.J. Foyt was behind the wheel more times at The Milwaukee Mile than at any other speedway in his legendary career. He is one of a handful of drivers to have driven in all four classic USAC divisions - Indy cars, Sprint cars, Midgets and Stock Cars at America's Legendary Oval.
What's interesting to note is that "Super Tex" won more USAC Stock Car races at The Mile than national championship Indy car races - six stock car wins to four Indy car triumphs. No doubt, he earned his position as a fan-favorite with his repeated, determined drives to the front of the field, as he was a legitimate threat to win at The Mile every time he took to the track.
FOYT AND INDYCARS AT MILWAUKEE
Foyt's racing career in Milwaukee began in August of 1957 when during Fair Week he drove two race cars - aboard Bob Higman's Offy-powered midget, and the Hoover Motor Express upright Indy car. Foyt's debut was less than spectacular as he broke a wheel in his Indy car debut on the 44th lap, hitting the wall in Turn 3.
Foyt continued to develop his skills racing across the nation in traditional upright Indy cars when he joined the potent Dean Van Lines team in 1958.
In 1960, he moved over to the Bowes Seal Fast team in 1960, and drove both a laydown roadster (a front-engine Indy car with a straight four-cylinder Offenhauser engine rotated usually 30 degrees) and a more conventional Watson-styled roadster until 1964.
With the advancement in technology and the introduction of the rear-engine Indy car configuration, Foyt made the transition to the faster rear-engine machinery in August of 1964, as he drove an ex-Dan Gurney Lotus 34-Ford in the 1964. In the Tony Bettenhausen 200 at The Mile, he dropped out with transmission problems.
At the time, the Indy car championship was contested on both dirt and asphalt ovals. Conventional roadsters were raced on dirt and rear-engine Indy cars - or as Foyt called them "funny cars," were raced on pavement. Foyt won a 100-mile dirt car race on Saturday, August 21, 1965 in Springfield, Ill. And personally drove his dirt car hauler to The Milwaukee Mile for the next day's 150-mile pavement race.
That day, in what has become one of the most legendary drives by any driver occurred when Foyt's rear-engine Indy car did not arrive with his crew in time to qualify that Sunday, forcing Foyt to unload his dirt car. As the decision was made, Foyt worried his antiquated machine wouldn't be quick enough to make the starting field.
Foyt scrambled to find tires and get practice time. As Foyt recalled, dirt was still shaking loose from his car on his qualifying attempt - which was quick enough to earn the pole position, much to the shock his competition and to the delight of the crowd. Had he not had to make a pit stop for fuel during the race (dirt cars could only hold enough fuel for 100 miles), Foyt would not have finished second to Gordon Johncock in most memorable drive. It remains Foyt's favorite racing memory at America's Legendary Oval.
One of the epic battles occurred in the 1964 Rex Mays 100 when Rodger Ward #2, battled with Foyt #1 and Jim Hurtubise #56. The three battled until Ward's rear end locked up causing Foyt to dart right and Hurtubise going over the rear of Foyt's car and crashing hard into the wall. Hurtubise's car burst into flames severely burning the driver, who later heroically recovered to race again. [Russ Lake Photo]
Foyt is the first to tell you he's had some really good days and some really bad days competing at The Milwaukee Mile, which held an average of six USAC-sanctioned races in multiple divisions each year throughout the 1960's and 70's.
On June 5, 1966, Foyt entered an ex-Jimmy Clark Lotus for the Rex Mays 150, with a harrowing practice crash providing another memorable Foyt moment at The Mile. Entering turn one, a suspension upright broke and Foyt's Lotus hit the wall with heavy impact, causing the lightweight car to burst into flames. With the car still moving, Foyt unbuckled his belts and with his hands, pushed down on the engulfed side pods to hoist himself out of the burning car. He received serious burns to his hands and elsewhere, and spent most of the summer recuperating.
Foyt continued to drive the common rear-engine 'cigar' shaped cars until the early 1970's when wings began to appear on the cars. In 1973, Foyt debuted one of his most successful cars, the Bob Riley-designed Coyote. Foyt orchestrated several design refinements in the six years he campaigned it out of his Texas race shop on the USAC National Championship Trail with much success. Among his victories, Foyt won the Rex Mays 150 at Milwaukee en route to the national championship in 1975, and drove it to an unprecedented fourth Indy 500 crown in 1977.
In late 1978, Foyt purchased his next Indy car, the popular 'Parnelli' chassis from racing legend Parnelli Jones. Foyt drove that car at Milwaukee in 1979, winning the Rex Mays 150, and led an event-high 91 laps before breaking a universal joint while leading the race in that August's Tony Bettenhausen 200 at The Mile.
Foyt's next appearance in an Indy car didn't occur until the 1982 Dana Rex Mays 150. Foyt brought his state-of-the-art ground effect March 82C-Coworth to The Mile, the same car he qualified on the front row and led laps in the Indianapolis 500 that May. Foyt started seventh and surrendered the lead on lap 74 at The Mile to eventual race winner Gordon Johncock, then finished second.
Foyt drove several speedy ground effect March and Lola chassis in the late-1980's at The Mile, and in his final race as a driver, Foyt dropped out due to engine issues in his Lola T-9100-Chevy Ilmor, finishing 16th in 1991.
FOYT'S STOCK CAR PROWESS
Already an established USAC open wheel star, the Houston native first appeared in a USAC Stock Car event at The Milwaukee Mile in 1962, driving one of Ray Nichels' powerful Pontiacs. That season, he took home a pair of third-place finishes at The Mile. Foyt also drove Ford's for the NASCAR stock car powerhouse Holman & Moody team in 1965, with a second and third place finish at The Mile, and a third in 1967.
Foyt's first stock car victory at the historic oval was in the Governors Cup 250 in 1967, driving a Ford Galaxie for the aforementioned Holman & Moody team. Milwaukee fans will remember one of Foyt's most popular cars as the white Ford's Torinos he drove for fellow competitor Jack Bowsher. Foyt won the 1968 USAC Stock Car driving championship for Bowsher, and in the four year span from 1968 to 1971, he claimed three race victories along with a pair of second and third place finishes at The Mile. Late in the '71 USAC Stock Car season, Foyt also appeared at The Mile for the luckless Chris Vallo team, in a Ray Nichels-prepared Plymouth Road Runner.
For the 1978 USAC Stock Car Season, Foyt campaigned a Hutcherson-Pagen built Chevy Camaro and did quite well at The Milwaukee Mile. He used the same race car to break the track record twice, and scored two Mile victories, one each in 1978 and '79.
FOYT'S UNMATCHED CAREER
Proving his versatility, Foyt finished second in both 50-lap USAC Sprint car races held on June 26, 1960 at the historic one-mile oval, losing out to Parnelli Jones in the first feature, and to Don Branson in the second.
With longevity of 34 seasons of driving, A.J. Foyt is the only driver to bridge the 1950's to the 1990's. He manhandled dirt cars and roadsters with their skinny tires all the way to piloting rear-engine ground effect missiles, evolving and innovating along the way as a mechanic, engineer, and one of the world's most versatile and successful drivers.
Never again will a driver span such a technological jump, and never again will there be another A.J. Foyt, Jr.
This year the Milwaukee Mile continues its open wheel traditions dating back to the historic speedway's first auto race, held on September 11, 1903. The Milwaukee Mile staged races on a continual basis, joining the open wheel national championship schedule beginning in 1933. In 1954, the surface of The Milwaukee Mile was paved, joining the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Darlington (S.C.) Raceway as the only paved motor speedways holding national championship events, raising the prominence and frequency of Indy car and national stock car events held at The Mile.
The Milwaukee Mile also holds the unique position of being the only venue to host both the IZOD IndyCar Series and Champ Car World Series in the same season - on three occasions from 2004 to 2006 - with current IZOD IndyCar Series drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kaanan among the victors.
The Milwaukee Mile will host America's premier open wheel stars June 14th, in the running of the Milwaukee IndyFest.
Tickets are available: Grandstand seating is FREE Friday, with on-track action beginning at 9 a.m. Fans can watch practice and qualifying for the IZOD IndyCar Series stars, followed by the Firestone Indy Lights 100 race taking the green flag at 5:40 pm.
A general admission ticket is required for Friday's infield activities, which include: Family Fun Zone and zipline, Ferris wheel, bumper cars and many kids games and activities, the Snake Pit for live DJ and viewing platform, the IZOD IndyCar Fan Village, IndyCar and Indy Lights driver autograph sessions and the main concert stage. Friday evening's entertainment will include the Saz's Brat Fry from 5 pm to 8 pm, and the Battle of the Bands, which kicks off at 6:45 with eight of Milwaukee's finest musical acts.
Arrive Early: Saturday morning, all infield activities kick-off at 8 am, with an IZOD IndyCar Series driver autograph session at 9:15 am. Fans are encouraged to arrive early to enjoy "Coffee with the Legends" - a question and answer session with some of the biggest names of past and present IndyCar history. The legends line-up will include IndyFest promoter Michael Andretti, team owner Roger Penske, current IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti (tentative), and driving legends Johnny Rutherford and Arie Luyendyk. The "Coffee with the Legends" session begins at 9:45 am Saturday in the IZOD IndyCar Fan Village in the infield of the Milwaukee Mile. All reserved ticket holders are welcome inside the infield for all of the pre- and post-race activities.
Smash Mouth will perform in concert following the IndyCar race Saturday afternoon. All Saturday ticket holders can attend the concert at no additional charge.
Generations: To commemorate Father's Day weekend, IndyFest will host a "Generations" Q&A session at the IZOD IndyCar Fan Village Friday evening at 6:45 pm. Currently scheduled to appear are the following famous father/son combinations: AJ and Larry Foyt, Michael and Marco Andretti and Bobby and Graham Rahal.
Pre-Race Flyover: The Wisconsin Warbirds will fly four World War II-era T-6 'Texan" aircraft over the Milwaukee Mile. The T-6 has been flown by the Air Forces of more than 30 countries.
10-year old local singing sensation Skylar Star Stecker will perform the National Anthem Saturday prior to the Milwaukee IndyFest race. She has performed at many events throughout the state. Learn more at: http://www.skylarstar.com.