So what do you bestow upon an iconic motorsports figure like A.J. Foyt for his milestone 80th birthday?
Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage found the perfect gift.
"Ever since 1997, I've been trying to get back the True Value 500k winner's trophy from A.J. since Arie Luyendyk was named the rightful winner of that controversial Indy Racing League race," Gossage said. "What better gift than acknowledge that it is his to keep now and forever and I will no longer badger him about giving it back. All I ask is that he puts a bow on it and changes the nameplate to "'Happy 80th A.J. - Keep Up The Good Fight!' "
The 1997 True Value 500k, the first Indy car race at Texas Motor Speedway during its inaugural season, ended in a cloud of controversy over the race winner. Billy Boat, a rookie driver for A.J. Foyt Racing, crossed the finish line first and initially was declared the winner. While Boat, Foyt and the team were celebrating in Victory Lane, an upset and vocal Luyendyk entered to contest the victory. Foyt took offense to Luyendyk crashing the party and delivered "The Slap Heard Around The World."
Luyendyk, however, won his protest the next day as USAC cited malfunctioning timing and scoring equipment and credited him with leading the final 19 laps en route to the victory. But the original True Value 500k trophy was long gone as Foyt packed it in his car as he and his wife, Lucy, headed to their lake house in Austin following the race.
"Let me start out by saying that we did win the first Indy-car race at Texas Motor Speedway," Foyt recounted in Texas Motor Speedway's 10 Years Strong book that commemorated the top moments of the speedway's first decade. "There is no doubt in my mind about that. Billy Boat took the checkered flag before thousands of fans on a hot Saturday night. And I'll tell you one more thing. If the race had been run by officials of the current Indy Racing League or NASCAR, the record books would show that Billy Boat won that race. Instead, the records say that Arie Luyendyk won.
"Oh, and by the way, Billy won the race at Texas Motor Speedway the next year too. And we have the trophies sitting side by side."
Luyendyk received a replica of the original True Value 500k trophy, but Gossage reminded Foyt every time he saw him that he wanted that trophy back.
"A.J. would grumble at me and tell me to come down there and take it from him," Gossage said. "Even to this day, he has been so passionate that Billy won that race that the trophy is officially his to keep. Everyone at Texas Motor Speedway wishes A.J. a great 80th and a speedy recovery from his triple bypass heart surgery."
Also a special Texas surprise for Foyt was a phone call from newly-elected Governor Greg Abbott, who assumes his duty as state governor on Jan. 20. The two expressed mutual respect for one another and future plans to meet up at Foyt's hometown of Houston.
“I’m so proud of you, so proud that you’re a Texan and proud of what you’ve done," Governor-elect Abbott said. "You’re a hero for us here in Texas and we’re thankful that we have you.”
The Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 is June 6 at Texas Motor Speedway. A.J. Foyt Racing will have cars Nos. 14 (Takuma Sato) and 41 (Jack Hawksworth) entered.