It was a glorious era in the history of the Indianapolis 500 and Indy car racing.
It was a time when fans flocked to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and other circuits on the schedule and rooted for one of two drivers.
It was a time when an Indy car fan was either an A.J. Foyt fan or cheered for Mario Andretti but there weren’t many spectators that cheered for both.
It remains Indy car’s “Rivalry for the Ages.”
“I think that part was healthy,” said the 74-year-old Andretti from his Nazareth, Pa., home. “It’s always healthy in the sport to have really strong feelings – fans that really, really want to take a bullet for you type of thing. It’s part of the fun. It’s part of what makes the sport so appealing. It’s part of the aura – all of those things. I think rivalries like we had were the healthiest thing you could have for the sport because I knew damn well we didn’t give an inch.
“As much as the fans were for one or the other we were just as selfish as that, too. We fought hard for what we got – really hard.”
Those battles is what separated these two drivers apart form any other tandem in the over 100-year history of the sport.
Foyt holds the record for most Indy car victories with 67 and was the first driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times in a career. He also won the 1972 Daytona 500 and the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans – the only driver to win those three major events.
Andretti won 52 Indy car races, including the 1969 Indianapolis 500. He also won the 1967 Daytona 500 and the 1978 Formula One World Championship – the only driver to achieve those three career accomplishments.
“He was one that loved the versatility, the opportunities,” Andretti said of Foyt. “He wanted to drive everything that he could get his hands on. That instigated my desires, too. He was doing some of that before I had the opportunity. I had my own ambitions but I certainly look at him as driving all these things and I wanted to do the same. All of that was healthy and good.
“I looked at A.J., I looked at Dan Gurney. I looked at Parnelli Jones -- these were all guys I had such incredible esteem for. That helped shape me as a driver.”
Foyt and Andretti were fierce and determined rivals who were not always friendly while at the race track but had a tremendous respect for each others' abilities.
“I don’t think A.J. will ever know how much I appreciated how much he meant to me as a competitor and how much of an inspiration he was to me as a driver,” Andretti recalled. “I tried to come up to his level and at least fight to come up to his level and measure myself against him and encourage me, also, to race just about anything I could get my hands on.
“He and I obviously had our moments. To me I never looked at anything as a negative. Everything was a positive for me. To win a race with A.J. finishing second at one point in my career was the ultimate and it was not a bad day to finish second to him as well. He had that much aura to make you feel that way.
“A.J. is an intelligent man. He probably didn’t like me but I think I earned my respect and to me that is all I could expect. I probably had a lot more respect for him than maybe he did for me. I felt that. But nevertheless I have to go with that. I had the utmost respect for him because as good as he was my career was richer because of that.”