Reams have been written about A.J. Foyt’s phenomenal racing success. His expertise, talent and accomplishments have been extolled by many, known by legions.
There’s one characteristic this racing icon possesses, however, that is perhaps not as well publicized. Displayed from the beginning of his career — he always has shown a respectful regard for the past and a staunch traditionalist attitude.
There’s no better example of this than Foyt’s reaction when the Chevy V-8 began to make inroads into USAC sprint-car circles. Many in USAC were against the Chevy. They believed it was for minor-league organizations like IMCA with its then-reputation for staged events and shoddy equipment. USAC, they believed, should run only the historic thoroughbred that had been the engine of choice for American oval-track racing’s top levels for four decades, the Offy.
Foyt was one of the most vocal in the Offy’s defense.
His first encounter with a Chevy sprinter was at the March 20 Meyer Speedway USAC event in Houston. Foyt had second place locked up when Jim Hurtubise, in his groundbreaking Chevy, blew past him on the last turn of the last lap.
Foyt was furious. He huffed over to Hurtubise after the race, and according to LeRoy Neumayer who was there helping Hurtubise, ranted, “Take that SOB to a dirt track where it really counts, and then we’ll see what it does!”
Foyt had thrown down the gauntlet with words that would soon prove prophetic.
USAC’s next event was on the Reading, Pa., sleek, half-mile dirt. Foyt beat Hurtubise. “That’s what I mean,” snorted Foyt to Herk afterward.
It got tougher for Foyt and his Offy after that, though. Hurtubise beat him at treacherous Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway and was soon joined in the Chevy vs. Offy battle by Parnelli Jones in his Fike Plumbing Chevy.
Still Foyt fought on. The battles among that trio were furious, the words, at times, more so. By season’s end, Foyt had secured the USAC Eastern Sprint Car Championship, Jones the Midwest version.
Despite the fact that his Offy was giving up 30 cubic inches and 50 horsepower to the Chevys, Foyt refused to switch. Instead he stayed loyal to the venerable old Offy and won six races for his efforts in 1961. But Jones did beat him for the new, combined USAC National Sprint Car Championship.
By 1962, even Foyt could no longer hold back the flood of technology. Continued development had made the Chevy too strong for even his considerable talents to overcome. He commissioned master mechanics Jim Travers and Frank Coon to build one of their Traco Chevys for him.
Still, he couldn’t quite let go. As late as 1963 he won three USAC sprint mains with his Offy and campaigned it, sparingly, in 1964. It was inevitable, though. The Offy’s time had passed.