A.J. Foyt will be participating in his 65th consecutive Indianapolis 500 as a driver and an owner. His son Larry Foyt, who is President of A.J. Foyt Enterprises, has been coming to the 500 every year since he was born in 1977, the year that A.J. won his record-setting fourth 500. We asked them a few questions…
Q: A.J., are you glad to be back in Indy?
A.J.: “Well, anytime I come here, I’m glad to be back here, that means I’m still living!”
Q: What keeps you coming back to Indy year after year?
A.J.: “Actually I’ve lived in Indianapolis as much as I have in Texas — most of my life. This is kind of my second home.”
Q: What do you love about it?
A.J.: “Indianapolis is what made my name and that’s what I really love about it. I like the way the town really gets behind the race. It’s like the Kentucky Derby, when you go to Louisville, you don’t hear much about it. But when the Derby is getting ready to happen, you really hear about it.”
A.J. joins the other 4-time Indy 500 winners Al Unser, Sr., Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves at Indy last July.
Q: Is the team in good shape with the cars so far?
A.J.: “I think we’re in pretty good shape, but you know, the way racing is now, it’s all about fuel mileage, and you’ve got to be lucky on the yellows. Not necessarily the pit strategy, everybody knows what they’ve got to do there. No, the biggest thing you’ve got to do is catch the yellows just right, where before you used to race all day long, flat out.”
Q: You’ve seen a lot of changes in racing over the years. What do you think has been the most significant change?
A.J.: “Well, the biggest change I’ve seen in racing is that it’s about 1,000% safer. I think the tires and the fuel cells are some of the biggest changes. You aren’t carrying near as much fuel. Now you carry 18 gallons, we used to carry 75 gallons! They’ve got crash walls (SAFER Barriers) at racetracks and stuff like that, where when you hit a wall like I did a couple times, it was solid, there was no give. So that’s the biggest thing, I think. I don’t like some of the racing they’re doing now, but the safety I do like because I’ve lost a lot of friends through the years.”
Foyt caught up with old friend Parnelli “PJ” Jones at Indy last year.
Q: How do you stay current with everything going on?
A.J.: “Well, my son Larry is running my whole team for the last three or four years. I’m at the race shop almost every day at home before I go out and get on my tractor and do some work, but I stay pretty current on it.”
Q: Looking at the 11 car with the American flag livery which is trying to raise awareness for the Homes For Our Troops program, what do you think of that?
A.J.: “I think the car is beautiful and it’s a great program. You know, ABC and I have been together for many, many years and they’re a great company. I’m glad to see them do something like that. People don’t realize how tough some of our Vets have it. What’s made America great are people like that who have given so much to protect us. Now we have a chance to help them out.”
Q: How do you think the race is going to go this year?
A.J.: “You know, that’s anybody’s guess. I don’t think anybody can predict that. Because like I say, you’ve got to catch the yellows just right and have to get the right fuel mileage. Like last year towards the end, the ones that saved the fuel, they looked like heroes. But still at the same time, the other ones didn’t want to fall out so they had to back off and let the other ones go, where before it was never that way, you raced to the checkered flag. That’s what I don’t like about racing. It used to be you would race when they dropped the green and you raced to the checkered; it’s not that way anymore. And it’s, you know, it’s just like NASCAR with stage one, stage two and stuff like that. When I was racing in NASCAR, there was no stage one or two, you’d race till it’s over with.
Q: With Roger Penske buying the Speedway just before the pandemic and now it looks like he is going to have nearly a full house on race day. What are your thoughts on that?
A.J.: “Roger and I’ve been friends for many, many years. He’s one of the few people where we still know each other and one of us haven’t passed away yet. But I was glad to see it — since they sold the Speedway — you couldn’t have had a better man to buy it than Roger Penske, because he knows racing, he knows what it takes. I’m happy for him. He’s had to take some tough hits with the pandemic, but Roger knows what it takes. It looks like it is coming back strong. I think they’re close to selling it out.”
Q: Larry, how do you feel about the month so far?
LF: “Well, it’s just gotten started, but it was a good opening day for us. I feel like we were definitely more competitive than at the open test. So that was good that engineers went through all the data and looks like we went the right way. So still a lot of practice and a lot of time to go, but we’ll see. It seems like a good start.”
Q: How has having J.R. Hildebrand driving the No. 11 car benefited the team?
LF: “Well, J.R.’s great. He brings a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience, especially here around Indianapolis. I know he doesn’t want to be labeled as an oval driver because he’s certainly not just that, even though he’s just running ovals for us. He has a lot of road course experience too. But he’s just he’s a very analytical, smart driver, he thinks a lot and he’s a really good guy on developing a setup, so that’s going to pay huge dividends for the month.”
J.R. Hildebrand chats with Kyle Kirkwood and Dalton Kellett on pit lane.
Q: How is he interacting with his teammates?
LF: “Oh, he’s great. I mean, he’s one of those guys that’s just super easygoing, laid back and generous with information. He’s a real team player. And he’s kind of a leader in the engineering room.”
Q: You won’t be acting as a strategist at this race. Why?
LF: “I’ve been trying to step back a little bit, especially as we’ve grown to three cars to where I’m not just on one car for a whole event because you really don’t get to see the whole picture of what’s going on with the team. So I’ve had Tom Wurtz, who’s got a great deal of experience, coming in to call the oval races and that just lets me walk around, see the other things, listen to other stands and just get a better, big picture view of the entire organization.”
Foyt gets a hug from Tatiana Calderón after her 15th place showing in the GMR Grand Prix. Foyt has been her race strategist this year.
Q: You’ve assumed more and more responsibility with this race team. Are you relishing the challenges that you’ve been faced with and how have you overcome them?
LF: “Well, I have a lot more gray hairs. But growth is hard, especially in this environment right now, but as you see, a lot of the IndyCar teams are growing. So I feel like it’s something we have to continue to do, as long as you can do it properly. But a lot of my time ends up being on the financial side of things, which is good. I enjoy working with sponsors and and doing those deals. It is a lot but as you grow, we’re not the little Waller, Texas race team anymore. So it’s exciting, because we’re trying to really be competitive against these big teams that have been at it a long time. But I think the growth is going well. We’re going to certainly have some growing pains but I think it’s the right way to go for us.”
Foyt poses with Dalton Kellett’s parents Cinde and Mark before the GMR Grand Prix.
Q: What have you brought in terms of management to help with that?
LF: “To work along with Scott Harner, we brought in Grant Weaver who’s got a ton of experience, I believe about a decade of experience over at Ganassi running some areas of their team as well as spending some time with Pratt and Miller. He’s been out of IndyCar for a couple years but he’s getting back into the swing of things. He’s a great addition to the team. I think management-wise we’re in a good place. The crew chiefs are working hard to get up to speed with the growth and it’s just not easy. It’s a lot of work, but everyone’s got their head down and getting to it.”
Q: What is it about Indy that makes this event so special to you?
LF: “It’s hard for me to put a finger on one thing, I mean, it’s just something I’ve grown up in literally.
I’ve been coming here pretty much every year of my life and watching A.J. race here. It’s a special place when it’s in your family and in your blood like that. And even for the fans, people have come here for many years. It’s unlike anything else. Even someone coming for the first time, sure it’s this huge and great event but I think when it’s something you grew up with, it’s just part of your whole life. When I think about the time I’ve spent here, it really is a huge part of my life. Even when I was a young kid, you just dream about driving here and now it’s just awesome to still be a part of it. At the end of the day, I want to get back to the point where we can win here, but it’ll always be a special place for our family.”
Q: What would it mean for you to be able to deliver a victory for A.J. in this year’s 500?
LF: “You can’t even put it into words. I mean, I’m sure it would be just unbelievable! A few years ago, when we were leading the race with Tony [Kanaan], and we knew we had a chance at it, but this series is so competitive that it feels like that was ages ago even though it was only three or four years ago that we legitimately had a chance to win the thing. And that’s just how tough this series is. It’s not for a lack of effort. Obviously, we probably don’t have the resources of some of these teams, but we try to just work smarter and work harder. And then part of my job is going out and making sure we can get those resources. So that’s what I’m focused on.”
J.R. Hildebrand is piloting the No. 11 Homes For Our Troops Chevrolet in the Indianapolis 500 this year; he is driving all of the oval track races for Foyt. He finished 14th after starting 25th at Texas Motor Speedway in March. Hildebrand joined the team last year for the Indianapolis 500 where he finished 15th, the highest finisher of Foyt’s entries. J.R.’s best finish at Indy came in 2011 when he finished second as a rookie and took home Rookie of the Year honors.
On Qualifying: “Qualifying at Indy–it’s one of my favorite days of the year. It remains to be seen how
things will shake out. There’s always the question of which engine manufacturer brings a little more to the table when it counts. Obviously, Chevy’s made some great gains and we’re excited about our prospects on that front. Also, there’s a new format this year in having the top 12 advance.
“We’re cautiously optimistic that if we really get everything right, we can be on that cusp of getting into the top 12. The top three rows are really the teams that have the most resources, the people that bring the most to the table. Even just the difference between that fourth row there though, there’s always some surprises, and I think we’ve got such a good group here and the guys have been doing such a good job, that maybe we’re in the hunt for sneaking our way in. Some weather forecasts might change exactly how we’re approaching the qualifying weekend but altogether, the car rolled off the truck and felt good right away and we’re making good progress so I’m excited to just get out there and lay a few laps down.”
On Qualifying at Indy being a favorite day: “I think even more so than the race in some respects it’s the culmination of a lot of the prep work that the teams have done to get to that point. It’s just the car on the track with you, there’s no strategy, no variables that are in play like they are on race day. To have it be just you as the driver on the track to maximize what’s available to you. Maybe earlier in my career, it was stressful, there are a lot of reasons why it could be a stressful environment, but I’ve always enjoyed qualifying at Indy. As I’ve done it more and as I’ve gotten older, it’s one of the few places, few times out of the year, when you can go into that mode feeling generally quite prepared. We’ve got time to do a lot of work to be ready for going out there and maximizing that moment. The pressure and the necessity to execute, be the best version of yourself, for the car to be the best version of whatever it can be for outright speed, it just encapsulates so much of why I am a race car driver in the first place, why we’re all doing this. I’ve definitely learned to really appreciate the chance to go out and do that here where the car is made to be at this place.”
Hildebrand Fast Facts: Age 34…Born in Sausalito, California and lives in Boulder, Colorado with his wife Kristin…has competed in 66 IndyCar races with 17 top-10s including seven top-5s. In 11 Indy 500 starts, he has four top-10 starts and four top-10 finishes.
Dalton Kellett– No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevrolet
Kellett will be making his third start in the Indy 500 this year. At Indy, his best finish is 23rd (2021) and his best start is 24th (2020). His best finish in the NTT INDYCAR Series is 12th (St. Louis, 2021) and his best start is 14th (St. Petersburg, 2022).
“I’ve been looking forward to qualifying this weekend. We have made some good changes to the car to make things nice and comfortable. We’ve mainly been working on our race setup during the week but come Fast Friday, we’ll be turning the boost up and doing some qualifying runs and getting down to our trim level. The big thing is really going to be deciding on a downforce level. We’ll have to see what the conditions are like. If it’s windy or not, that’s going to affect how much you’re going to trim it out come qualifying. Ideally, we’ll get to a trim level that lets us have a good crack at it and be able to stay flat all four laps. You want to be able to have a quick pace the initial lap or two, but really, it’s the average pace over the four laps so having a car that stays under you and knowing where you need to be from an aero standpoint, what you need the do with the weight jacker throughout the run, front bar, rear bar, and that’ll be what we’ll be practicing on Friday.
“I think without bumping this year, your risk tolerance is probably a little bit lower, you don’t need to take those risks to make it into the field so if you know you’re comfortably 15th to 20-something, you’re not going to be probably not taking as big risks as you might be to bump up a little bit whereas if we’re comfortable 15th or top-10 or top-five, then we’ll obviously going for it. Without the pressure of Bump Day, it just makes you focus on the race car a bit more.”
Kellett Fast Facts: Age 28…Born in Stouffville, Canada and lives in Indianapolis…Became engaged to Nicole Westra and they plan to wed on New Year’s Eve…Graduated from Queens University with a degree in Engineering Physics…Brand spokesman for Ten80 Education’s National STEM League…Enjoys rock climbing, backcountry skiing, camping, playing guitar, cooking and golf. For the technically curious, Kellett posts TikTok videos (@dalton_kellett) about the race car labeled “Indy Mondays” with subjects ranging from the steering wheel to the weight jacker to cold tires.
Kyle Kirkwood– No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet
Kirkwood is making his Indianapolis 500 debut. Along with his teammates, he tested at the 2.5 mile superspeedway in April. His only previous superspeedway experience is the race at Texas Motor Speedway in March where he started 25th but worked his way into the top 10 in 25 laps. His race ended early when he attempted to pass a slower car that made contact with Kirkwood and Kirkwood hit the wall.
“My experience so far has been phenomenal. Tuesday was my second day running around Indy, my
first day was back in April and Tuesday it seems the track was a little different from what I felt back in April. I think maybe it’s temperature related, we’ve had some rain in the last couple weeks but the track got better and better as the day went on. I was really hoping we could run Wednesday but the rain caused a damper. I think the team has done a really good job, we’ve dispersed on setups between all three cars and we all came back together on what we think as far as which setup will be good which is a big accomplishment for only one day. We’re quite happy with where we sit right now.
“We’re going to roll into qualifying and start working on our qualifying setup on Friday. We plan to do it on Friday because we get the bump in horsepower, that’s the main thing and qualifying is not as important this year. We’re not in a situation where we feel we’ll get bumped so you’re going to see a lot more people just doing the race setup. As the past couple of years have shown, the people that have the best “race” cars are the ones that win, not necessarily the best qualifying car. I feel like it’s going to be a very good race and in the past few years, whoever qualified on pole usually doesn’t even lead going into Turn 1, and they rarely lead afterwards so qualifying is definitely not everything at this race so it’s a lot more important to get the car right than to get the qualifying car right.”
Kirkwood Fast Facts: Age 23…Born in West Palm Beach, and lives in Jupiter, Florida… Only driver to win championships in all three divisions of the Road to Indy ladder system…Began racing karts at age 5…Won the 2018 Cooper Tires USF2000 title (12 wins in 14 races) and won 15 of 17 races to claim the F3 Americas Championship…Won the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires with nine victories and five poles in 16 races (RP Motorsports)…Won 2021 Indy Lights title (2020 season canceled due to pandemic) with 10 victories, seven poles in 20 races. Enjoys surfing, deep-sea fishing, diving and golf.
Qualifying at Indy: The format has changed for this year. On Saturday, positions 13 to 33 will be locked in while positions 1 to 12 will advance to Sunday’s rounds of qualifying. Drivers in the Fast 12 will attempt to advance to the Firestone Fast 6. The final round determines the pole through 6th position.
Past Performance: At Indy, the team’s best start is from the pole which Billy Boat won in 1998. A.J. Foyt has won four poles at Indy but he never won from the pole position. The team’s best finish is first with Kenny Brack in 1999. Foyt also won his last two Indy 500s with cars designed and built by his team, and in 1977, his record-setting fourth victory came in a Foyt-powered Coyote. J.R. Hildebrand’s best start at Indy is sixth in 2017 and his best finish is second in 2011. Dalton Kellett’s best start at Indy is 24th while his best finish is 23rd. Kyle Kirkwood has never raced on the IMS oval.
Last Race: At the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course, rookie Tatiana Calderón finished 15th in the No. 11 ROKiT Chevrolet, her best result to date. She became the first female driver to lead a lap on the IMS road course and the first to lead a lap in INDYCAR competition since Simona DeSilvestro led a lap at Baltimore in 2011. Kyle Kirkwood and Dalton Kellett were both running competitively until accidents sidelined them early.
Qualifications on Saturday will be streamed live on NBC’s Peacock Premium channel and INDYCAR Live. On Sunday, NBC will broadcast the Fast 12 session and the Firestone Fast 6 session.