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A.J. Foyt King of Auto Racing

November 18, 2016 GMT

This story appeared in the May 31, 1961, Houston Chronicle. The headlines and story are reprinted as they ran then.

Indianapolis ­- A.J. Foyt, a bold 26-year-old Texan whose confidence is matched only by his driving skill, today stands as king of the automobile racing world.

Tuesday in this speed shrine’s golden anniversary 500-mile race. Foyt drove brilliantly in powering his Bowes Seal Fast Special across the finish line 2.8 seconds ahead of Eddie Sachs.

Houstonian Foyt, who was the youngest driver in the Memorial Day spectacle, today says he expects to keep going another nine or 10 years before putting away the goggles for good while still a young man.

He’ll wait here to pick up the winner’s check which likely will run past $115,000 at tonight’s victory dinner. But he has plans no slackening in his heavy schedule of burning rubber on the asphalt tracks along the nation’s big car and sprint car circuit.


The estimated 225,000 witnesses to Foyt’s triumph saw one of the stirring battles in the history of this storied event, Indianapolis veterans declared.

And the drama was not solely wrapped in the numerous exciting duels for leadership - the lead-footed charges of Jim Hurtubise, Parnelli Jones, Jim Rathmann, Troy Ruttman, Roger Ward, Sachs and Foyt.

On the 51st lap a spectacular five-car pileup along the three-quarter mile brick stretch directly in front of the main grandstand miraculously resulted in no serious injury.

Don Davis, Roger McCluskey, Bill Cheesbourg, A.J. Shepherd and Jack Turner all were able to leave the first aid station under their own power.

The trouble began when Davis’ oil line broke and oil squirted over his right rear tire sending his machine, rolling at 140 miles an hour, smashing into the restraining wall. As Davis’ racer careened across the bricks and came to a stop in the track, the other machines roared past.

Shepherd’s brakes locked as he slid by Davis and Turner’s machine crashed into him, somersaulting front to the back in a throat-tightening scene. The other two racers slammed into the pileup.

The only other collision came later when Eddie Johnson kissed the wall at the northwest turn and spun out. Johnson walked away unhurt.

Foyt’s winning speed was 139.130 m.p.h. bettering Jim Rathmann’s record time of 138.767 m.p.h set last year.

The final half of the race was a two-way duel between Foyt and Sachs, with the pre-race favorite, Roger Ward, trailing in third place, ready to take over if the leaders faltered.

But the finish could not have been improved on with a script.

Both Foyt and Sachs were forced into a fourth (one more than planned) pit stop, and it was here that the Houstonian “lost’ and “re-won” the top money.


On the 152d lap Foyt took the lead that had been seesawing between him and Sachs for 150 miles. Sachs made his last scheduled pit stop on the 158th lap and got in a satisfactory 24 seconds. But when Foyt pulled in for his thirst stop, the gas nozzle malfunctioned and he was stopped 31 seconds-and left the pits without getting a drop of gasoline.

He came out of the pits just as Sachs roared by, Foyt put his foot through it and fought back in control with 75 miles to go.

Just 40 miles from victory, he had to pull in for refueling-and Sachs took a 31 second lead, insurmountable at this stage barring misfortune.

But just as luck had turned on Foyt moments earlier, just as unexpectedly it returned.

Three laps from home, Sachs was forced to the pits to replace a tire. “I was running in canvas and next after that comes air.” Sachs explained. Foyt raced by with an eight-second lead and came home free although the winning margin was the closest ever.

Only 12 of the original 33 cars were running at the end. J.E. (Ebb) Rose, another Houstonian in the race, went out on the 96th lap, having fought a leaky oil line for 30 laps.

Lloyd Ruby, a third Houstonian was eighth.

If the last half of the race was a bell ringer, the first part was but slightly less breath taking.

Jim Hurtubise charged from the green flag and opened a wide lead in record speeds. But the pace forced him in the earliest pit stop among the leaders and he never got back in connection, his motor finally burning up.

Jim Rathmann and Sachs had brief leads and then rookie Parnelli Jones did. Foyt had gradually moved up and he whipped Jones in a see-saw battle.

Now came Troy Ruttman, and a new duel began, first Foyt, the Ruttman nosing ahead. And again Foyt survived.

The next challenger was Sachs. It was a battle the rest of the way, as dramatic a one as any spectator could have asked.


Foyt would go on to win the Indianapolis 500 three more times, in 1964, 1967 and 1977.

In 40 years driving, he won 172 major racing victories in five countries and 15 states, 67 Indy car victories, 14 national titles, first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, the only driver to win Indy, the Daytona 500 (1972) and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (1967), named Driver of the Century by the Associated Press.

He would later become a team owner.