The teaming of Tony Kanaan and A.J. Foyt was part of a larger plan to modernize and improve Foyt’s race team. An unintended – yet welcome – consequence of that plan is the attention it’s bound to receive.
Kanaan, the 42-year-old Brazilian who won the Indianapolis 500 in 2013, is one of the most popular drivers in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Foyt, the 82-year-old four-time Indy 500 winner, is one of the sport’s larger-than-life characters, holding records for victories and championships from a career that spanned portions of five decades.
Together, they’re expected to receive a large chunk of attention – especially at the 102nd Indy 500 in May – and much of it will be related to the similarities between the two.
“I never gave up, and every time I see Tony race, he never gives up until the last lap,” Foyt said. “He fights all day long, whether the car is handling or not. That’s what I really like about him. Your car is never going to be perfect. In my lifetime, my car might have been perfect in two or three races, and then it blowed up. All these kids nowadays want everything perfect. That just don’t happen in racing.”
At Indy, Kanaan is hugely popular. When he took the lead in the 2013 Indy 500, the roar of the crowd was loud enough that Kanaan heard it over the roar of his engine. Now that he’s teamed with Foyt, he expects and embraces the pending scrutiny.
“A.J. is A.J.,” Kanaan said. “He’s a guy I’ve always admired. We’ve gotten to know each other through the years. I love the stories he tells. Even before we signed, I always listened to his stories. We definitely have similar personalities in many ways. That helps quite a bit.”
The additional attention is a side benefit of a larger plan that has been ongoing at AJ Foyt Racing in recent years. With a new shop just blocks from Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a reinvigorated engineering staff, Larry Foyt is aiming for improvement by way of details.
“We’re on a new path of being an engineering-led team,” said Larry Foyt, president of A.J. Foyt Enterprises. “With all that, the experience Tony brings is very good for us. I feel like he’s got a lot of great racing left in him. He’s obviously in super shape and has a lot of desire left to win races. That’s what we want to do. It’s a great fit.”
Kanaan brings the experience of 20 years and 17 victories in the series. He also brings Eric Cowdin, his longtime engineer who was with him for the Indy 500 victory and Kanaan’s 2004 series championship.
“When I started my conversations with Larry, my question was, ‘Where do you want to go with this?’” Kanaan said. “I’m not the type of person to take their money just to compete in INDYCAR. I don’t want to be running in the back. I understand that can possibly happen, but if I’m coming to your team, how are we going to elevate the level of the team and myself?"
The iconic No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet will be based in Foyt’s shop in Speedway, Indiana. The team moved part of its operation from its headquarters in Waller, Texas, to the Speedway location in 2014. The team’s No. 4 car will remain in Waller. A driver for that ride has yet to be named.
The addition of Kanaan also is beneficial to ABC Supply, the roofing supply company based in Beloit, Wisconsin, that serves as the primary sponsor on Foyt's cars. Since the departure of Target from Chip Ganassi Racing, ABC Supply is the longest-tenured primary sponsor in the series and will enter its 14th season with AJ Foyt Racing in 2018. Kanaan, who brings a large portfolio of personal sponsors to the deal, is deft and experienced at sponsor relations.
“ABC brings more people to races than anyone else out there,” Larry Foyt said. “Someone who can interact with their people is very important. Someone that their people can rally around is great for ABC Supply. That’s why I think Tony perfectly fits that bill. I think he’ll energize ABC and the fans of our team. He’s just a very good fit with the whole program.”
But another fit – the relationship between two legendary racers – is the one people will be talking about throughout the 2018, especially in May. One legend says the other legend reminds him of his legendary self.
“A lot of the drivers now days – not all of them, but some of them – when things go bad, they give up,” A.J. Foyt said. “They’re on good salaries and all that. I couldn’t give up. If I gave up, I didn’t eat. It’s a hell of a difference now days. I think Tony came up the same way I did. That’s why he charges all day long.”