A-J- Foyt Racing: 50 Years Young

When the race cars rolled out for the start of the first pre-season test at Daytona International Speedway in January, word quickly spread through the pits and paddock that A.J. Foyt was at it again.

A set of Goodyear tires was mounted on the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda Dallara, instead of the Firestone tires that are mandated for IndyCar Series competition.

When officials went to confront the often feisty car owner at the team hauler, they found him with a big grin on his face.

"Those were only my tow tires," he admitted.

"If you can’t have fun in this game, why stay in it?" Foyt said. "It’s getting too cut throat. I enjoy the fun in racing."

Foyt has plenty of reasons to smile as his team embarks on its 50th season.

He’s got a new driver, new but familiar team manager, and feels his team will be much more competitive in 2007.

Because if A.J. Foyt enjoys having fun, he enjoys winning even more. The first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times, Foyt won seven national championships and 67 races. In addition, he won the Rolex 24 At Daytona twice and shared overall honors in the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans. In NASCAR, he won seven races, including the 1972 Daytona 500, and was named one of the stock car organization’s 50 greatest drivers.

But, like the A.J. of old, Foyt still hungers for his next victory.

"He still is as passionate as ever," said Darren Manning, the team’s new driver. "A.J. is in the shop every day, working hard. He’s also got many stories. He’s got a memory like an elephant. He knows everything. I was quite impressed. I love his passion and his involvement with the team."

Larry Foyt, son of the car owner, has taken over the role of day-to-day operation of the team. He stressed that the team has made no major changes to its approach, as opposed to a matter of getting back to basics.

"I think it’s nothing major, but a lot of little things that our team used to do when we were winning races and the championships," Larry Foyt said.

"That goes from testing of all types to the wind tunnel. We are going to do every bit we can, which we’ve kind of missed in the past when we fell behind a little bit."

One thing hasn’t changed. The team will continued to be based near Houston, Texas.

"My dad has always liked to do a lot of his own R&D here in house," Larry Foyt said. "We’re just picking up this program where it was a few years ago to get us back to the front."

While the elder Foyt ended his hall of fame driving career in 1993, he continued running his racing team. Foyt joined the fledgling IndyCar Series in 1996, where his driver, Scott Sharp, won a share of the inaugural championship. Kenny Brack won three races and the championship in 1998, and came back the following year to win the Indianapolis 500. However, the team’s only victory since then was in 2002, when Airton Dare won in Kansas.

In Manning, A.J. Foyt has a driver he feels is not afraid to race to win.

"We needed somebody to push that button a little harder, and I think that’s who we have now," Foyt said. "I feel we have basically the same cars, and we’ve had good pit stops the last couple of years. With Darren, I think you’ll see us up there fighting pretty hard with Penske and Ganassi."

Manning drove for the Ganassi organization in 2004 and the opening 10 races of 2005, scoring 13 top-10 finishes in 24 races.

Racing with Foyt, the Englishman feels comfortable with the smaller team.

"I’ve been racing with the big teams with massive organizations and big structures," Manning said. "To get back to a proper race team is quite exciting. I was really impressed with my first visit to A.J.’s shop. I knew they were doing everything right. We’re going to be getting some race wins out there this year, that’s for sure. A.J. knows how to put a race car under a driver."

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