1967 – A Comeback Of Sorts For A.J.

Indomitable A.J. Foyt has been coming to the Speedway as a participant since 1958, however his first trip to the Brickyard dates back to seeing the legendary Bill Vukovich win one of his two victories. After driving in 35 consecutive races and about to be participating in his 52nd it’s hard to believe that some in the press were talking retirement towards the end of the 1966 season. True. A.J. Was 31 years old and had just endured a rough 18 months. Why?

In January of 1965 he suffered his first serious injury. While driving a Holman & Moody Ford at the road course at Riverside, Foyt came upon Junior Johnson and Marvin Panch. Finding himself with no brakes, Foyt steered the #00 down the embankment to avoid crashing the two drivers. Having turned 30 the day before, he broke his back, fractured his heel and sustained a damaged aorta.

After Indianapolis the following year he was burned in practice for the Rex Mays 100 at the Milwaukee Mile. Having purchased Jimmy Clark’s Lotus 38, the car broke a spindle and hit the wall entering turn one and burst into flames. He sustained serious burns on his hands, face and neck, earning him a trip to nearby West Allis Memorial hospital.

The 1966 season proved to be one of the most tragic as USAC lost six drivers with championship car experience. Foyt’s frustrating season continued as he went winless and ended up 13th in the final point standings. The press were asking Foyt why continue to race? At the time he was a two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, winner of four USAC (now IZOD IndyCar) National Championships and even a Daytona win. Was it worth the risk? Some even whispered that maybe his best days were behind him.

He told Ray Marquette of the Indianapolis News in 1966, “A lot of people don’t realize that in the last two summers I have been hurt for a total of eight or nine months. I came back too early after breaking my back at Riverside and the doctors didn’t want me to come back as soon as I did after being burned at Milwaukee, but I wanted to race so I did.

“When I was laying in the hospital hurting so bad I did think for awhile that maybe someone was trying to give me a message and my morale was low, but that was only when I was hurting so bad. Then I realized we had gone to Indianapolis with two new cars and we weren’t ready. So we kept on hurrying to catch up and never were ready for a race.

“Now I feel we’re ready for this season. After last year there were a lot of people who thought Foyt is through, but I certainly don’t feel that way. It was the worst year in my career, yet I consider myself fortunate in getting through the year alive.

Foyt found success with the two Lotuses he owned. However thought he could do a better job. Thus at the end of the 1966 season, Foyt along with his father Tony built the first of the Coyote racecars, borrowed heavily from the Lotus, however built to stronger standards. The changes continued with Foyt painting the new cars a warm poppy red and numbered 14 and added popular driver Joe Leonard to drive the second car. Foyt along with his partners (Mr.) Shirley Murphy and Bill Ansted were ready when the 1967 season opened.

Pelican Joe as he was sometimes called qualified the No. 4 Coyote in the middle of the second row. A.J. Started alongside in fourth as Parnelli Jones in the controversial STP Turbine developed by Andy Granatelli started on the outside of row two. Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney and Gordon Johncock started in the front row.

On Race Day, the damp weather ruled the day as second row starter Parnelli took the lead from Andretti down the backstretch. Rain postponed the race to the following day after 18 laps.

When the race restarted, Parnelli dominated the race leading 171 laps, however on lap 196 the race took a dramatic turn. Parnelli recollected, “I was just stroking and all of the sudden something happened like it went into neutral with just three and half laps to go. I just coasted into the pits, it was all over.”

Foyt remarked, “I knew the only thing I could do was to try to run as hard as I could all day and hoped something happened to him (Parnelli) and thank God it did.”

Having run in third place early on and holding second behind Jones for the second half of the race, Foyt now found himself leading. However on the last lap coming out of turn four, Bobby Grim broke a half shaft in his Racing Associates Gerhardt-Offy and spun causing Carl Williams and Chuck Hulse to crash as they attempted to avoid Grim. Cars littered the north end of the front stretch.

With P.A. Announcer Tom Carnegie bellowing, “Can he get through? Can he get through? Can he get through?” Foyt approached the incident.

“I had a funny feeling I was lapping some cars going down the back straightaway for some reason I backed off I can’t tell you why. I backed off I said man I got this thing won, I don’t want to blow it. Then when I come around go through three and came off of four cars are going all over. I said oh my gosh. Through all the smoke, I couldn’t see nothing. So I pull my car down into second gear. I kinda scooted down into the seat and held on. I said whoever I hit, I was going to try to drive them past across the start-finish line. When I broke out in the clear I said I can’t believe what I’m looking at. I knew I had to had hit somebody. But thank God I didn’t hit nobody.”

Foyt won and teammate Leonard came home third, the duo taking home almost 30% of the entire purse. Foyt was also the only driver to complete the full 500-miles. By the way, he went to France two weeks later and teamed with fellow American Dan Gurney to win the prestigious 24 Hours of LeMans.

Thankfully having dismissed the silly retirement talk from the press, Foyt went on to win the USAC National Championship in 1967 and drove for another quarter century until his retirement at the Speedway in May of 1993. You can see A.J. Foyt as he leads his ABC Supply team and driver Vitor Meira as the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series season continues May 30 with the 2010 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at noon (ET) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 211. The race also will be carried on

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