Legendary race car driver A.J. Foyt, four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, wants to put Chase Austin in the driver’s seat next year at the nation’s largest racing event.
Choosing Chase Austin
Foyt, 77, made the announcement last week at the Honda Indy 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington. Should he qualify, Austin will be driving for Foyt’s team in the 97th annual Indianapolis 500 race in 2013.
Foyt wrote in his blog that his choice of Austin should be taken seriously for two reasons:
“One, I never plan that far ahead when it comes to Indy. And, two, Chase will be only the third black driver to run in the Indy 500.”
Should he qualify, Austin will join Willy T. Ribbs and George Mack as the only African-Americans to ever drive in the Indy 500. And it could be the move to push his uneven career into stardom.
Austin was not shy about accepting the offer.
“It’s A.J. Foyt; I can’t really say much more. For me to say that I am anything other than excited about this opportunity to compete in the Indianapolis 500 with AJ Foyt Racing and Honda next year would pretty much be an understatement.”
A promising start
In the mid-2000s, as part of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program, Austin signed with Hendrick Motorsports and made history at 14 by becoming the youngest person ever to win a driver development contract in NASCAR.
After that, his career languished, according to Austin, for not committing to any one team:
“My downfall since I didn’t stay in one thing for more than one year is I really didn’t get a chance to build enough confidence to be like, ‘I’m really good at that.’ As soon as I did, we would be moving on. We just kind of dabbled in everything.”
But last year, at age 22, Austin became the first African-American driver to drive in Firestone Indy Lights, racing for Willy T. Ribbs. He finished ninth at Indy and 10th in Iowa. This season he finished 10th at Indy and eighth in Iowa for Juncos Racing’s Lights program.
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Impressing Team Foyt
Apparently his efforts were sufficient to impress Foyt’s son, Larry, who is also the Foyt team director:
“I have some friends from the Kansas area who were watching him coming up and winning everything at the local tracks in Kansas. So back in February, I told Dad, ‘Hey, you need to watch this kid, he’s going to run Indy in the Lights car and got some good experience coming up.’”
The elder Foyt agreed that the Honda, Austin team-up is a winning one:
“My son Larry and I have watched Chase drive and we want to give him a chance. What I like about him is that he has driven all types of race cars with different horsepower in his career, and I believe that’s important when evaluating talent. He’s done a real good job in the Lights series, and I believe he can qualify for the Indy 500 with Honda on board.”
Larry went on to say the team-up could be “pretty cool.” Austin concurs:
“I really don’t know what to expect come May, but you can bet we will have a lot of fun.”