The familiar figure of motorsports legend AJ Foyt was missing from pit road at St Petersburg, and everyone - friend and rival alike - was thinking of him and wishing him well as he underwent an emergency medical procedure on his heart last Friday for a serious blockage.
In the end it turned out well for Foyt, with a completely successful outcome of the procedure - and then his driver Vitor Meira in the #14 ABC Supply car survived the St Pete crashfest to hand the team an eighth place finish in the season opener after the team's racing director, Foyt's son Larry, took over calling the shots at St Petersburg.
76-year-old Foyt had been taking his wife Lucy to the hospital for a check-up the previous week when doctors pounced on him while he was there to carry out some long-deferred tests. That led to the discovery that he had a 95% blockage below previously inserted stents (mesh tubes used to open up blocked arteries in a procedure called angioplasty.)
"After the angiogram on the following Monday, my cardiologist told me I was lucky to be alive!" Foyt has written in a special feature for the USA Today
newspaper. "Hell, I didn't know it was going to be that
bad or I might have hung out with Lucy that weekend!" Instead, he'd spent the previous few days trying to get through as much of the team's pre-season preparations as he could in case he was sidelined.
In fact the blockage was "more like 99% and the blood was just trickling through", doctors found during the procedure at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital in Houston on Friday. But the surgeons were able to avoid open-heart surgery and instead put in a new stent - while Foyt himself was conscious and watching progress relayed by television cameras onto a screen.
"They had a full surgical team on board with the surgeon who did my wife Lucy's triple bypass, prepared [in case] the stent didn't work. Their challenge was that they had to go through several stents first to get to the blockage and then get the artery opened enough to take the stent.
"After what seemed an awful long time, my doctor stepped back and said 'We got it AJ' - I can't tell you how happy and relieved I was. I think he was too."
Foyt was discharged after spending the weekend in hospital - where he watched the race live on television - with strict orders to "take it easy for the next three or four days."
"That's why I wasn't at [St Pete]. My son Larry was in charge and he and my ABC Supply team did a good job without me - although I did make a few phone calls!"