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Foyt IV no longer the new kid on block

By Associated Press
Published May 26, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS - A.J. Foyt IV hears people complain he's too young, too raw and too erratic to win in Indy cars.

At one point, they might have been right.

"The first two years (at Indy) were definitely tough because I was crashing cars and that kind of stuff," he said. "But I think I'm definitely coming around."

The IRL's youngest driver at 20, his resume includes more than a famous name. The grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt already has a points title in the circuit's developmental circuit - the Infiniti Pro Series - three starts at Indy and his first top-10 finish last year at Texas. All indicate he's progressing as a racer.

"He's a different driver than he was last year, completely different," team owner A.J. Foyt said. "He still has a lot to learn."

Two years ago, Foyt IV came to Indy with many questions. Other drivers feared him because they didn't know what to expect. On race day, veteran driver Jimmy Vasser said Foyt IV nearly ran him over and other drivers blasted Foyt for driving too slow.

While it appeared he needed more seasoning, granddad insisted there was only one way to learn the family business - through trial and error.

The younger Foyt complied and, finally, now is seeing the results.

As if on-the-job training wasn't enough, Foyt IV also had to contend with living up to the Foyt name.

The elder Foyt won more Indy car races (67) than any other driver, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Daytona 500 and was the first inductee into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1989. He's been at Indianapolis every year since 1958 as either a driver or owner.

Last year, Foyt's son, Larry, also drove for him at Indy and the two younger Foyts will be part of a three-car Foyt team in Sunday's starting field at Indy.

A.J. Foyt IV, who turns 21 Wednesday, will start 28th. Larry Foyt qualified 30th and last-minute hire Felipe Giaffone earned the final starting spot, No. 33.

But Foyt IV's growing pains came at a cost.

His rookie year was marred by three crashes in his first seven IRL races and car problems in six of the other nine.

It was even worse at Indianapolis. His first month on the track included a crash in testing, two practice crashes and another close call when he spun and rolled, embarrassingly, to a stop going backward down the back straightaway.

Then came race day.

Last year, he struggled for speed all month and then crashed early in last year's race, an incident that the elder Foyt credits with changing his grandson's perspective.

"I think that taught him a big lesson because he watched the rest of the race on TV," the team owner said. "He's like (Arie) Luyendyk's boy, he's a good race-car driver, but you've got to crawl before you can walk."

By late last season, Foyt IV's results were starting to reflect the changes.

He qualified sixth at Chicago - his best ever starting spot for an IRL race. He followed that with a seventh-place qualification run at California, then produced his best finish (10th) in the season-finale at Texas.

Suddenly, Foyt IV was no longer a danger; he appeared to be adjusting to the powerful cars and tricky tracks that made him look uncomfortable for the better part of two years.

"I see a lot more confidence and a lot more feedback in terms of what the car is doing," Larry Foyt said. "This year, he has definitely come a long way."

DRESS REHEARSAL: Buddy Rice was back in uniform and squeezed into his race car, but not to take laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Instead, last year's Indy champion got in the cockpit to be fitted for a new seat more than two weeks after a crash during practice knocked him out of Sunday's race.

Rice expects to return to competition in two weeks, when the Indy Racing League runs at Texas Motor Speedway on June 11.

Rice hit the wall going backward after spinning in practice May 10 and was hospitalized with a back injury and a concussion. Doctors later discovered a partially torn spinal ligament in his neck.

The impact was such that rivets that hold the HANS (Head and Neck Support) device in place were bent. Rice's custom-fitted seat was also destroyed.

REG-GIE, REG-GIE: Newly retired NBA star Reggie Miller played his last game for the Indiana Pacers on May 20, but he's not finished performing before screaming fans in Indianapolis.

Miller has at least two more events this week - grand marshal for Saturday's 500 Festival Parade and waving the green flag to start Sunday's race.

THE RIGHT MIX: Jimmy Kite, who will make his fifth Indy start, will take a spin in a race car powered by a blend of ethanol and methanol during Carb Day activities Friday.

It will mark the first time this year an Indy car has run demonstration laps with the new fuel blend. The league announced in March that it would be converting to ethanol fuel over the next two seasons.

ANNOUNCER FALLS ILL: Longtime IMS announcer Tom Carnegie was hospitalized after he became ill during activities leading up to the Indy 500.

The 85-year-old Carnegie was taken to Methodist Hospital and is expected to be released today or Friday.

This is Carnegie's 60th year as public address announcer for the Indy 500, earning fame with his deep voice and distinctive phrases such as "Heeee's on it!"

IN OTHER NEWS: The A1 Grand Prix motor-racing series, led by a member of Dubai's royal family and backed by soccer player Ronaldo, may include street races in Texas and South Africa as part of a 12-race debut season.

[Last modified May 26, 2005, 01:18:13]


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