BUSHNELL, Florida – It’s 6 a.m. in central Florida and Larry Foyt is pulling on his racing helmet.
“A bit too early at my age,” smiles Foyt, who turns 41 on Feb. 22. “But, eh, this is fun, when it’s not hurting.”
The son of the legendary A.J. Foyt isn’t testing a car for the upcoming 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season. As president of AJ Foyt Racing, he’s leaving that to veteran Tony Kanaan and rookie Matheus Leist, who will be teammates at Foyt this year.
Instead, Larry, a former NASCAR driver and three-time Indianapolis 500 starter, is preparing for another stint in one of the most grueling events in motorsports – an around-the-clock go-kart race, a physical challenge that leaves arms, legs and ribs aching, eyes red and bleary.
If you think the Rolex 24 at Daytona sports car classic is a stiff test of stamina and concentration, try the SimCraft 24 Hours of America endurance karting race, the ninth annual version held Feb. 17-18 at Bushnell Motorsports Park road course in Florida.
For a second year, Foyt signed on to compete in the ProCup/Endurance Racing showcase event with Alfe Racing, entered by longtime AJ Foyt Racing sponsor Alfe Heat Treating.
“I’m going to feel this tomorrow,” Foyt said, looking for his gloves. “But it’s such a great event – it kicks off our racing season, and you just never know who you’ll race against and meet out here.”
At last year’s event, Foyt met young driver Zach Veach, who this season is running for Andretti Autosport.
“We signed Zach and he ended up competing in the 2017 Indy 500 for us and finished 26th,” said Foyt. “You just don’t know who’ll meet here.”
Foyt teamed this year with young kart stars Colin Warren, Ryan Mayfield and Mathew Gruenholz, along with veteran Florida kart racer Louis Satterlee. The team was astutely managed by Ryan Westman, Alfe’s regional sales manager.
Foyt co-drove the No. 14 Endurance LO206 kart in the ELO-Pro class against the likes of IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champions Ricky and Jordan Taylor, who ran on the No. 10 SimCraft Racing team with fellow IMSA regulars James French and Cameron Lawrence.
“That’s the thing about the 24 Hours of America, you can race against young drivers, weekend warriors and guys like the Taylors,” said Foyt. “You never know what’s going to happen. This race is all about the competition and having fun.”
Foyt admitted he wasn’t in top race shape, but he stole a few tricks from Jordan Taylor in last year’s Bushnell event, which saw rain fall most of the race.
“I followed Jordan around in the rain,” Foyt recalled. “I learned a lot from him about wet-weather driving.
“I did start racing in karts,” he added. “But I did more on ovals as I headed to NASCAR. Here, I just try and keep up with the young kids and not embarrass myself too much. A.J. is probably having a bit of a laugh about it and thinking what is he doing.”
Foyt and Alfe Racing finished third outright, the race won by the No. 27 Detroit Rock City team led by Chevrolet performance engineer and SCCA racer Drew Cattell.
“Twenty-four hours racing a kart, it’s just a whole unique aspect,” said Foyt. “Day and night, you’ve got rookies, pros and old guys like me out there. We are all living our passion.”
Despite his age and race rust, Foyt wasn’t far off the pace in practice and the race.
“Our team ran a best lap of 1 minute, 3.7 seconds in practice,” said Foyt. “I believe I had a 1:05.6. I’m happy with that.”
Foyt, who runs day-to-day operations for his father’s Verizon IndyCar Series team, is pleased with how the 2018 season is shaping up with fan favorite Kanaan and promising newcomer Leist driving. The year kicks off with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11 (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
“It’s great to have Tony on board this year, especially with his experience,” Foyt said of the 2013 Indy 500 winner. “Tony will be driving the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet. A lot of people felt he’d lost his ability. We definitely didn’t feel that way. We felt like when put in the right situation, Tony can do exactly what he did back in the day, certainly on ovals. We saw that at the Phoenix test.”
What about pairing 43-year-old Kanaan with 19-year-old fellow Brazilian Leist, who drove Indy Lights last season?
“It’s going to help Matheus, who’ll pilot the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevy,” said Foyt. “Tony has so much information. Matheus has really impressed everywhere he has gone, especially on road courses. He’s a very smooth driver for a 19-year-old. He is unbelievably composed and doesn’t get excited. He has a lot to learn but I think in the second half of the season, he could be right up front with some of the guys.”
Foyt’s goal for the season is for the team to finish in the top 10 in the standings.
“It would be a really big deal for us to just start building on consistency,” he said. “We’ve had flashes of speed at different places. Now we need to be consistently more competitive.”
He already accomplished his karting goals at Bushnell.
“Just keep out of the way of faster karts,” he said, “and not wreck.”