IndyCar News - Foyt Pace Car Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the press conference center. Very exciting press conference this afternoon. We're going to start with Sam Coomes, manager with Chevrolet. Has some remarks for us.
SAM COOMES: Good afternoon. Thank you, everybody.
Chevrolet's history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway runs deep with our founder Louis Chevrolet's statue in front of the Speedway museum. By the way, it's Chevrolet's 100th anniversary in August as well by our founder Louis Chevrolet.
Chevrolet and the Central Indiana Chevrolet dealers are proud to be part of the Chevrolet's official vehicle relationship with the Speedway as it's continued on. Chevrolet and the local Chevy dealers are honored to have the first four-time winner, A.J. Foyt, drive the 2011 Camaro pace car. Mr. Foyt's deep racing history at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway makes Mr. Foyt a great pace car driver for us and the Speedway.
Thank you, Mr. Foyt for allowing Chevrolet to be part of your 50th year here.
A.J. FOYT: That's fine, but you make me sound awful old, which I am(laughter). But it's a great honor to drive the pace car. Fifty years ago I didn't think I'd still be here, so I guess I'm glad to be here and glad to drive the Chevrolet.
I do have a couple of them in my showroom. Maybe the crew has to win this one so I can put another one in there. Be proud to win it and proud to be with General Motors, Chevrolet division.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff Belskus, Speedway president, one of the things I think about this announcement, the long-standing relationship we have with Chevrolet at the Speedway and also the long-standing relationship with A.J. Foyt that goes far, far deeper than just a race driver who has had success here. This is something that goes much deeper than that.
JEFF BELSKUS: Absolutely. As you heard Sam say, Chevrolet goes back a hundred years, they're celebrating their hundred-year anniversary. We're very appreciative to Chevrolet giving us these Camaro SS's and of course with A.J., the greatest race car driver in the history of the Indianapolis 500, maybe the history of the world. So we're very fortunate to have him and glad that he was willing to drive this year.
THE MODERATOR: A.J., I can't help but note that in the very first yearbook of the United States Auto Club in 1956, in the Midwest, the last entry from Houston, Texas, is a guy named A.J. Foyt, ran across the street. Amazing story, coming out of Playland Park in Houston. You won the 50th anniversary race, your first 500 here. You seem to really enjoy the opportunity to do this.
A.J. FOYT: Talk about coming this, Don Freeland, which is deceased, and Jimmy Reese, when I come down to Playland Park, I used to watch them changing tires. I was fortunate enough, had my own car, didn't know too much. I had my car here at 16th Street. I made the race. I was changing the weight. Jimmy told me, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I'm jacking a little weight.' He said, 'First of all, where you need to jack a little weight is on the right side right ahead of the steering gear.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' He's talking about that throttle foot. That's where you need to jack weight. I'll never forget that as long as I live.
Coming back here, you know, my dream was, when I was in high school, I listened to the 500 hoping someday just to come back to see it. Then when I did see it, I was hoping someday I'd be fortunate enough to be able to try to race in a car, much less win the race.
The way I look at this race, I've been fortunate enough through the years to win a few races all over. I always felt like this: I'm glad to be named amongst a bunch of the great, great race drivers. I don't feel I'm no better than any of the other ones at their time. I look back at history, back at this place, you couldn't hog tie me in some of those cars they run over a hundred miles an hour in. I run long enough we run over 225 here.
To see the changes from 1961 till I quit is unbelievable. Like I've always said, a lot of people feel that they made the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I've always felt the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is what's made A.J. Foyt. I appreciate what Jeff said about me, but I'm glad to be named amongst some of the great race drivers.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for these gentlemen.
Q. When you're leading that first lap, are you going to be feeling you want to push down on the throttle?
A.J. FOYT: Well, I said the day I stepped out of here and retired that I would never sit back in another car. I'm just glad to be able to say, 50 years later, I'll live this race one more time (laughter). I'm quite sure, 50 years ago, if I would have liked had this car, it would have been a hell of a lot better ride than what I drove in. Probably could have won the race and listened to the radio (laughter).
Q. As a team owner for a number of years, do you get the same thrill out of success winning the 500 that you did as a driver?
A.J. FOYT: You want to know the truth?
Q. Yes, sir.
A.J. FOYT: No. Nothing like being in the driver's seat. You know, now there's so much technology, I can have a driver tell him exactly what he's doing wrong, see what he's doing wrong. Back then it was you and your mechanic. It's a whole different ballgame today.
It's like everything, everything is so much more on the computer. You can see the mistakes. Just like one of my engineers told Vitor, which is a good driver, in California about three or four weeks ago, If you back off a little bit, you'll pick up 1 or 2/10ths. He did that and picked up. Before, it's just you and your mechanic.
It's just so much technology ahead today than it was back then. But it's great 'cause it's made the cars a lot safer.
Q. Sam, does it help with sales, the image of the company?
SAM COOMES: First of all, we have our roots here with Louis Chevrolet. I understand his brother (Gaston) won the race in (1920). So that's good. But then Chevrolet and racing, from our roots, our roots are with racing. Louis Chevrolet was a racer with speed. You look at our core products of Corvettes, Camaros, from the sport car, that's part of our heritage.
So the racing population and the demographics all come back and support Chevrolet as one. So our dealers use this platform to merchandise and market to customers as we do as well.
The demographics of racing really hits Chevrolet perfect, in the sweet spot, so it does help us overall, not just here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway but across the country with our affiliation with NASCAR and Indy Motorsports.
Q. When you do stop and pause and think about your days racing, do one of the victories percolate to the surface or the forefront any more than any of the others and why?
A.J. FOYT: Well, to be truthful with you, they were all so great, it's unbelievable. But I guess the one that probably meant as much as anything was 1961 where Eddie Sachs and I had such a great race all day long. We didn't have radios or nothing. We raced hard all day long. I'd be leading. He'd be leading. All of a sudden they'd hold up a sign board, Late stop, fuel. I would say, You put 75 gallons in there, haven't used that much fuel. So when I had to make the stop, my heart quit beating. I felt like I had the race won, then I lost it.
In the meantime, where Sachs was such a hard race driver, he run so hard trying to keep up with me with a light load of fuel, he just wore his tires completely out. After the race, I don't think he could have run two more laps without blowing it. There's a day I felt like I had it won, I lost it, then it come back. That really was great for myself.
It's just hard to put it in words how you feel. I think probably going down the back straight I had a few tears. But all in all, that was probably one of the greatest ones. And to be the first four-time winner, that meant a whole lot to me. When I first come here, I couldn't even get a pit pass. I was walking around the garage area for a week because I told them I was supposed to drive for Dean Van Lines. I never forget, I think his name was Frankie Bane (phonetic). I wish I could remember the Chevrolet guy. He said, 'When the car gets here, you come back.' I said, 'OK, whatever is right.' I was walking around the garage area and couldn't get in the garage area. I'll never forget his name. Then when Clint (Brawner) got here, they signed me into the pits so I could go in the pits.
Q. Two of your wins came in coyote orange cars. That coyote orange color is an eerie similarity to the Chevrolet engine block orange.
A.J. FOYT: When I had my Chevrolet dealerships, we used to order a bunch. Station wagons. I think it was called vermillion orange. I always called it coyote red. But we ordered a lot of our Chevrolets that color, my trucks and all of them I used to drive, bring back here, was painted at General Motors. I think it was vermillion orange they called it at that time. We're going to have one up here this year, too, orange.
Q. You were talking about your greatest races. What about the one where you came back after those horrible injuries up at Elkhart Lake and started on the front row?
A.J. FOYT: Well, actually probably the fans here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, especially you newspaper writers, TV people, thought I couldn't come back. I think y'all drove me as much to prove a point that I could come back. Naturally I wanted to come back or I wouldn't have.
Yeah, the fans probably brought me back longer than I should have come back. But I have no regrets. The day I stepped out here, I'll never forget when Mr. Hulman sent Ray Harroun and myself, I think it's 'What's My Line' in New York. Hell, I never really been out of Houston, Texas. But we go up to New York. They had 'What's My Line'. I'll never forget asking him. I says, When is it time that you really want to quit racing? And he says, I'll tell you what, one of these days it will come to you. The day that I quit right here is kind of where I started.
The yellow went on, right before qualifying, we run a little over 225. I said, 'Who hit the wall again?' They said, 'Our team car.' I said, 'What?' They said, 'Yeah.' I got to thinking right then, I started here, I had great years here, there is no way I could own cars and run against my own cars.
So I just went in. The crew said, 'What?' I said, 'Everything is beautiful, but you have to get another driver.' They said, 'What do you mean?' I said, 'I quit.'
It was hard to quit. But I just felt like I started here, so I quit here. That was it. I haven't set back in 'em.
THE MODERATOR: The summer night, Indiana State Fairgrounds one evening, 1980s, pace car takes off. I can't believe how fast that pace car is going. All of a sudden it's sideways through the turn. You got General Chuck Yeager as your passenger. I just need to know, are we going to see a reprise of that performance?
A.J. FOYT: You never know what I'll do (laughter).
I'll tell you one thing about Chuck Yeager. We got to be pretty good friends. He grabbed the dashboard. I said, 'What the hell you doing?' He said, 'It's front-wheel drive.' I said, 'Don't worry about it.' He says, 'I'll get you in an airplane someday.' I said, 'No, you won't get me in an airplane.'
I know I thrilled him a little bit. I think at the same time he would scare the hell out of myself if I was in an airplane. He's the type of guy that would hurt his-self just to make you holler 'uncle.' I wouldn't give him that shot.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Exciting announcement.