WALLER, Texas -- Jack Starne is still struck by the invitation (as it were) by A.J. Foyt nearly 50 years ago.
Starne was working the Month of May for Jim Rathmann, who co-owned an Indy car with astronauts Gus Grissom and Gordon Cooper, but the entry failed to make the Indianapolis 500 starting field for the 1967 race. Starne was saying his goodbyes at the Speedway and ready to head back to California when Foyt approached.
“After A.J. won the race all his guys quit. He asked me if I wanted to go to work for him,” Starne says. “I thought, ‘This guy just won the Indy 500 and I don’t know anything. What can I do?’ But I agreed.”
Click it: A visit with A.J. Foyt || A tour of the Foyt Racing shop
It was supposed to be a temporary gig to help the then-three-time Indianapolis 500 winner with the Canadian USAC-sanctioned races.
“I started part-time and have been part-time ever since,” Starne adds with a laugh at the A.J. Foyt Racing shop.
Starne moved to Texas and was “adopted” by Foyt’s parents, Tony and Evelyn. He’s been a member of the family ever since.
“They were tremendous people,” Starne says, “and A.J. is like my brother.”
Starne and Tony were the crew chiefs on Foyt’s Indianapolis 500 victory in 1977, when he overtook Gordon Johncock late in the race. Starne was part of 29 of Foyt’s record 67 Indy car wins and several more in stock cars and sports cars. He also was instrumental in the early racing career of A.J. Foyt IV as his chief mechanic.
“All the different race stuff we’ve done, it’s been a lot of fun,” Starne says.
Starne, who was building fuel injection systems and camshafts for Bruce Crower before joining the Foyt team, also is a master fabricator. To this day he handles the welding at the race shop, where he supervises the team from the technical side.
"He's indispensable," says team director Larry Foyt, who will join A.J. in the timing stand directing the No. 14 ABC Supply car driven by Takuma Sato in the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston doubleheader.
“If I make it to ’17 it will be 50 years, then it will be time for me to do nothing. No, if I didn’t come to work I don’t know what I would do because I enjoy it,” he says.