Stories Of People Who Make A Living In Motorsports
BY BRIAN BARNHART
Brian Barnhart is the vice-president of competition for the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series.
Award Winner: Barnhart won the Indy Racing League Achievement Award in 1999 for his contribution to the series.
500 Winner: A mechanic for many years, Barnhart won a pair of Indianapolis 500s while working with driver Al Unser, Jr.
Education: Central University (now University of Indianapolis)
A.J. Foyt’s Indy-car racing records — four Indianapolis 500 championships, 67-career victories and 35-consecutive Indianapolis 500 starts — are testaments to one man’s driving talent, determination and mechanical knowledge.
Examine the statistics closer and you unearth some further astounding accomplishments. The ones that are amazing to me are the transitions he made in equipment and speed. He went from a front-engine roadster with five-inch-wide tires, to a rear-engine, ground-effects car and won at Indy with both.
He also ran his first four races on the race track when the straightaways were still brick, and won in 1961.
Then there’s the evolution of speed. From his rookie year (143.130 miles per hour in 1958) to his fastest qualifying year (222.790 mph in 1992) he jumped 80 mph. That’s staggering. Nobody will ever do that again.
Behind the statistics is a living legend who was raised in humble surroundings and — though he’s experienced fame and fortune — remains humble to this day.
As the IndyCar Series celebrates his 50th-anniversary year in Indy-car racing, I’ve been fortunate to call A.J. a racing hero, crafty competitor, boss and something I cherish most — a friend.
A.J. was my racing hero growing up. I remember the first time my dad took me to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the late 60s. I was 8 years old and A.J. was racing and I didn’t even realize he had already won the race three times by the time I got there the first time.
As I became a fan of Indy-car racing and a fan of the drivers — especially in that era — A.J. became my favorite driver, mainly because of his success. It’s certainly easy to cheer for someone who wins a lot, and he obviously won more than anybody else. I also liked the way he did it. His personality; I kind of liked the rough and tough and gruff guys.
As I became more involved with the sport and had an opportunity to work for him, it was a tough transition to being a fan of someone — almost idolizing him — to having a relationship with the person and getting an opportunity to work for him. Working for him, getting to know him and becoming a friend of his has been beyond my expectations.
He’s a guy that would give you the shirt off his back. In the couple of years I worked for A.J., I probably learned more simply because of the diversity of what we worked on. We did the 24-hour race at Daytona and a few sports-car races. We did stock-car racing and Indy-car racing. With his vast experience and knowledge, I learned more in a short period of time working for him than I did probably the other 12 years I worked on Indy cars.
He’s an unbelievable resource in experience and knowledge. He’s a unique individual. There’s never been anyone like him before, and it’s doubtful there will be anyone like him in the future.
I kind of liken him to Arnold Palmer, who put golf on the map and paved the way for the Jack Nicklauses and Tiger Woodses of the world to come along. I think A.J. did the same for Indy-car racing. The popularity and notoriety he brought to the sport, the more sponsors who took notice of the sport, has made the sport a more valuable commodity.
He remains actively involved in the IndyCar Series with A.J. Foyt Racing, fielding the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. entry with Darren Manning behind the wheel. Though he has turned over the day-to-day operations to his son, Larry, A.J. will be at every race weekend as the voice of experience.
(Original Print Date: May 16, 2007)