AJ Foyt on the mend after heart op
31 March 2011
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!"
Having watched the race, the famously no-nonsense Foyt also had a typically forthright opinion on the subject of the controversial double-file restarts that have been the centre of much discussion since Sunday.
"I like them and the drivers better get used to them because I bet they are here to stay. The biggest accident happened at the start but starts are always double file so there was no excuse for that deal," he expounded. "I think having double file restarts will make the show better. After all, if the drivers do them enough, they will get better at it, right? For the fans I think it's great because it mixes it up more.
"I know that double-file is a double-edged sword because there will be times my team may suffer because of them, but anyone can restart in a single file. That doesn't take too much skill or brains. These drivers need to use their heads."
Foyt added that when he started out in motorsports, if you didn't use your head and respect your rivals then you were going to end up in hospital. Foyt started racing in midget cars in 1956 and over the course of his career became the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500 (four times), the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona (twice), the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the 12 Hours of Sebring, giving him a cross-formula success to rival that of his contemporary, Mario Andretti. He suffered serious leg and feet injuries in a crash in the 1990 CART race at Road America, only to rebound and qualify in second place in the 1991 Indianapolis 500, but his last attempt to race at Indy came two years later in 1993 when he failed to qualify, after which he retired aged 58 and concentrated on team ownership.
He had set up AJ Foyt Enterprises in 1973 fielding Ron Hutcherson in the NASCAR series, but more recently the team's attention has been in competing in the CART/IndyCar series with drivers including Meira, Al Unser Jr., Paul Tracy, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Darren Manning, as well as Foyt's grandson AJ Foyt IV.