Hey, don’t get mad at me that I didn’t mention this A.J. Foyt Racing drive when I sent in my last blog. I honestly knew nothing about it on Monday. I knew Vitor Meira might have to miss a bunch of races, but I didn’t really think I’d be in the reckoning. Hadn’t really thought about it.
Let me explain the full circumstances of how it went down, because it turned a sort of adventure into just a weird – I mean weird-but-good – few days. We had to get my RV from Indianapolis back to Vegas. It was me, Tommy Kendall and another buddy, Chuck. On Monday, I had to go to the Indy 500 Banquet, but as soon as I got my check, I slid out the back door and the motorhome was waiting, with my Monster Jeep hooked on the back, the engine running and Chuck at the wheel. We were headed westbound and down, loaded up and truckin’, gonna do what they say can’t be done! You know that song? Check out Eastbound and Down
from Smokey and the Bandit.
So the GEICO Express pulls out of Indianapolis Motor Speedway about 7 o’clock, Monday night. As we were motoring down the road, I got on the computer, surfing the Net. And I found a matte black ’64 Lincoln Continental for sale, down near Houston. So I typed a detour into the GPS, and it told us we were gonna go about 1300 miles out of the way. So we veered off the course and headed south, to Texas, as night approached. I started negotiating with the guy via text messaging and emails, but we had pretty spotty phone reception. Chuck put in a demon stint of about nine hours that got us to the border of Texas at about four in the morning.
TK had yet to put a stint in and he was Twittering and Facebooking the whole time, so there are pictures up on his Facebook page of the whole episode. Anyway, I got behind the wheel just inside the Texas border, and we had about 300 miles still to go to get to Houston, and as I was driving along, the phone rang and it was Larry Foyt. We were on some backroads. We didn’t take Interstates the whole way down: we were using the shortest distance according to the GPS to cut off some mileage. I think it only cut off about 100 miles, and there was a lot of two-lanes, with lefts, rights and stop-signs, through all these little towns in Texas.
So I had TK sort out a deal with Larry for me to drive at the Milwaukee Mile for A.J. Foyt Racing, and all of a sudden the GEICO Express turned into the ABC Supply / GEICO Express powered by Monster, with Thrilla at the wheel. Yeah, that’s right: I’ve got a new nickname – The Thrilla from West Hilla.
So that put me in a better mood, because before that I really didn’t know what I’d be doing between Indy and the Toronto race in mid-July. My plan had been to go to the lake this week, but that changed with one phone call.
We continued to head south, and then my phone rang again, I guess at about 9 in the morning, and it was A.J. this time, and he was telling me how excited he is to have me drive for him, and of course there’s mutual respect there. He’s The Man.
He was mid-story-telling of how their race went at Indy, and suddenly I blew a driver’s-side tag-axle tire on the RV. It just exploded on me, and got chewed up and hung up on the Jeep, so it started rocking around all over the place too. So I’m trying to drive something that suddenly felt like a giant sprint-car, trying to keep it out of the ditch. I’ve got one hand on the phone, one hand on the wheel, both feet on the brake pedal trying to get the freakin’ thing slowed down but not wanting to interrupt A.J. mid-sentence or cut him off. But eventually when he paused to take a breath, I said, “A.J., I’ve got to take a break, I just blew a tire,” and he said “OK,” and hung up.
So I kinda limped it along at the side of the road in… Well, I don’t know where, but 60-80 miles short of Houston, and pulled into this little tin shack of a gas station, and I got out to go look for a tire. And the two people that greeted me just inside the door? Almost life-size cardboard cut-outs of Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon (pre-teeth). What were the chances?
Anyway, the guy behind the counter said they didn’t have the right tire in stock, and couldn’t get one for four to five hours. We contemplated on what we should do, so we unhooked the Jeep from the back of the bus, went into Houston, found the Lincoln, drove it around and made a deal on it. It’s sweet, as you can hopefully see if Malsher at RACER
loads up the pictures. My ones are sharper, but TK actually managed to get the whole car in the frame. No rude comments. The only issue that we know about is the air conditioning doesn’t work, but that should be pretty simple to fix. The guy’s shipping it to me next week.
So after about four hours, we headed back to the bus, and the garage had put a new tire on it, and then we headed westbound again. Texas takes forever to get through, and with the problems we’d had, I reckon we were in Texas for a total of about 17 hours. Something like that. We went from the top to bottom and from one side to the other. I got on the wheel about 1am the next morning, and we probably got out of Texas at about 6 o’clock. I drove from San Antonio almost to Tucson, Arizona.
By then we realized it was gonna take us another six hours from Phoenix back home to Vegas, and I figured I better get home and get my laundry done, because the team wanted me to be in Milwaukee by Thursday, for an ABC Supply appearance on Friday morning. So I flew home from Phoenix, set my laundry going and went down to the gym, while Chuck and TK carried on the journey, so now my bus is over at Chuck’s house. I had an early night to bed on Wednesday, about 8.30, and then I was up at 5am, and got on the bike at about 6.30 and put in a couple of hours. Then packed and headed for the airport.
That’s quite a week, I’d say, and the week’s nowhere near over: The most interesting part could be just about to begin. My hopes are just to have a good race at Milwaukee. I really want to finish this race for the team, because they’ve had some hard breaks this year. They got wrecked by Castroneves at Kansas, and had a good run going at Indy, but then a pit-fire and the big wreck. I reckon Meira will probably have to be out the whole season. So A.J. Foyt Racing really need some good results on the board. I talked with Larry for a long time on Wednesday, and I had that media teleconference with A.J.
and he said, “We’re not dormant, hoping we’re gonna get better; we’ll hire the best driver that’s available.” And that’s me.
I like Milwaukee; it’s a great track. I won there four times, started from pole twice. You could say I’ve got good memories across the board in Wisconsin, because I’ve gone well there and Elkhart Lake, which is a good feeling because they’re two completely different sorts of track. But winning Milwaukee in 2002 was especially satisfying just a week after the whole Indy thing.
I know the team had a car on the seven-post shaker rig Wednesday and Thursday, so they’re spending money and developing the car. They qualified well, alongside me at Indy, and were doing well in the race. That’s all you can ask of a team – to do the best it can and try to get better and try and get in the winner’s circle. I think I can do a good job for them this weekend and give them some much-needed support. And hopefully a good finish to raise the team’s morale.
Anyway, now you better believe me that I didn’t have a clue that this offer from A.J. was going to come. If I’d known in time, I could have just had the bus driven to Milwaukee, and I could have flown home for three or four days this week. The adventure in the ABC Supply / GEICO Express powered by Monster could have been delayed by a week, and been less of a rush. But then, I might have missed out on that Lincoln…
I’ll get back to you after qualifying on Saturday.The Thrilla