A.J. Foyt still has the original trophy sitting in his office. Arie Luyendyk received a duplicate trophy a couple years later. And Eddie Gossage just has some great stories about the inaugural open-wheel race at Texas Motor Speedway.
As the track enters its 20th season of racing with IndyCar returning for next Saturday’s Firestone 600, it’s worth looking back on the signature moments, and none stands out more than Foyt going after Luyendyk in Victory Lane following the first IndyCar race in June 1997.
That scuffle foreshadowed what would come at TMS, a track that has become known for its fights over the years.
He acted like a complete idiot, so I wasn’t going to tolerate that.
A.J. Foyt on Arie Luyendyk after the 1997 race
“Well, they say don’t mess with Texas, so you’ve got to remember why people say that,” said Foyt, a Houston native known as ‘Super Tex.’
“That day was just one of them deals where the scoring was faulty, but we were the winners. I still have the trophy in my office. I told them if they wanted to come get it, come get it … but there could be problems if they tried to come get it.”
Foyt, a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 turned team owner, doesn’t regret any of his actions that day. His driver, Billy Boat, had been declared the winner of the True Value 500K, and he didn’t appreciate Luyendyk crashing the party.
So when Luyendyk went in to protest the result, the 62-year-old Foyt went after him.
“He acted like a complete idiot, so I wasn’t going to tolerate that,” Foyt said.
As Luyendyk started to leave Winner’s Circle, Foyt backhand-slapped him and then shoved him. Luyendyk tripped over planters, and it ended shortly thereafter with several people breaking it up.
So when the race was over, I was like, ‘What’s going on? Aren’t they going to fix this?’
Arie Luyendyk on his reaction after the 1997 IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway
Similar to Foyt, Luyendyk doesn’t think he was in the wrong with his actions all these years later. After all, he was ultimately declared the winner.
There had been scoring issues with Luyendyk’s car exiting pit road, as two laps were not counted accurately. Those laps didn’t register by the equipment used by the United States Auto Club (USAC), which ran IndyCar races at that time.
“I was running well all night and was third or fourth and had a good pit stop, and left the pits in 19th or something like that,” Luyendyk said. “I was like, ‘How the heck did that happen?’ We raced hard to work our way back up to fifth, took another pit stop and were in 18th. So when the race was over, I was like, ‘What’s going on? Aren’t they going to fix this?’
“I wanted to find an official from USAC and was told he was in the Winner’s Circle. That’s why I went there to look for the guy from USAC, but I couldn’t help that I was so pissed off that they were actually ready to give the trophy to Billy Boat.
If it would have been a guy that was my age or younger, I would’ve totally gone after him. But because it was A.J. who, although he’s quite the bully, I do respect him. I was not about to start hitting on A.J. I probably would have lost that battle anyway because he’s as strong as an ox.
“I yelled, ‘Nobody knows how to count around here!’ I threw in a swear word or two, as well, but that’s what I said. And as I walk away I get hit really hard in the back of my head. I turn around and I got Foyt wrapping me around the neck and I tripped over some flowers. But there was never an issue between Foyt and Boat and me. The issue was the scoring.”
Luyendyk also shared that he didn’t want to retaliate against a legendary driver such as Foyt in the heat of the moment. Luyendyk also acknowledged it might not have turned out too well.
“If it would have been a guy that was my age or younger, I would’ve totally gone after him,” Luyendyk said. “But because it was A.J. who, although he’s quite the bully, I do respect him. I was not about to start hitting on A.J. I probably would have lost that battle anyway because he’s as strong as an ox.
“But we buried that hatchet a long time ago.”
For Gossage, it’s a moment that helped give TMS credibility after its opening NASCAR race weekend didn’t go as planned with parking and weather issues. The fight put TMS on the racing map, and also provided Gossage stories for a lifetime.
The best may be the Victory Lane re-enactment he did with Luyendyk two years later. Gossage made sure to wear the same suit and tie, and Luyendyk wore his same racing suit from that night.
The only problem?
“It was pretty much identical from that night, but one ingenious thing — we shot it in the daytime and it was a night race,” Gossage said, laughing.
That night, though, is embedded in TMS’ history and remains one of the highlights.
“That started it off with a bang,” Gossage said.
2:30 p.m. Gate 4 opens
2:30-3:25 p.m. Trucks practice
4:30-5:25 p.m. Trucks practice
5 p.m. Lil’ Texas gates open for Legends races
6 p.m. Legends practice at Lil’ Texas
6:30-7:55 p.m. Final trucks practice
7:30 p.m. Legends races at Lil’ Texas
10:45 a.m. Gate 4 opens
11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. IndyCar practice
11 a.m. Legends practice at Lil’ Texas
12:30 p.m. Legends Racing at Lil’ Texas
3 p.m. Gates 3 and 5 open, gates 2 and 6 open for Victory Lane Club and suites
3:15-4:15 p.m. IndyCar qualifying
3:30-4:15 p.m. Trucks series autograph session (Gate 4, 95.9 The Ranch display)
5-6 p.m. Trucks qualifying
5:15-6 p.m. IndyCar autograph session (Gate 3; IndyCar Fan Village)
6:45-7:15 p.m. Final IndyCar practice
8 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Rattlesnake 400 (167 laps, 250.5 miles; TV: FS1, radio: KFWR/95.9 FM The Ranch)
10 a.m. Lil’ Texas gates open for Legends racing
11 a.m. Legends practice at Lil’ Texas
12:30 p.m. Legends racing at Lil’ Texas
3:30 p.m. Gates 3, 4 and 5 open; gates 2 and 6 open for Victory Lane Club and suites
6 p.m. Robosaurus pre-race show
7:45 p.m. Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 (248 laps, 372 miles. TV: NBCSN, radio: KFWR/95.9 FM The Ranch)
30 minutes after race: Postrace show featuring JB and the Moonshine Band