AJ Foyt never really had any aspirations to race in Europe, yet somehow, Ford convinced him to run at Le Mans. He was supposed to race there in 1966, but delayed his debut by a year after suffering severe burns in a racing accident. For 1967, fresh off his third Indy 500 victory, Ford partnered Foyt with legendary racer/engineer Dan Gurney on Carroll Shelby's team. There, the two made history.
This was the first and only time the legendary 24-hour classic was won by an American team with American drivers driving an American car. To hear Gurney and Foyt tell the story, though, it sounds like it was easy.
Our friends at RACER caught up with the pair to mark the 50th anniversary of their Le Mans win, and filmed a must-watch interview (video below). Foyt is hilariously blasé in explaining his reasons for heading to Le Mans:
"Well, I was a rookie and just won Indy and all that stuff. I knew with Carroll Shelby–he's from Texas–he puts a good team together, and I knew Dan Gurney was a great race driver on road courses. I figured, 'Hell, I'll go over as a rookie and see what happens.' Fortunately enough, we won."
Foyt was even more nonchalant about it in . Have a look:
It is June 1967, and on the sun-dappled terrace of the Hotel Ricordeau, a Michelin two-star restaurant just outside Le Mans, Foyt is staring in shock at trout meunière, served in the traditional French manner. He grins ferociously at the waiter and says, 'Uh, what the hell is this, fella? I mean, this here fish has still got its head on, and I ain't going to eat no fish laying there looking so damn sorrowful at me every time I take a bite of him.'
Same country, a few days later. Foyt and Dan Gurney have just won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the first Americans ever to do so. They shared the driving, wrestling a burly Ford sports car around the tricky 8.36-mile course for a record 3,249.6 miles at an average speed of 135.48 mph.
Le Mans is, of course, the pride of all Europe and the granddaddy of all tough road-racing courses, and Foyt is still full of the kick of what he and Gurney have pulled off, taking a fine, savage joy in it. He leans over and confides to friends, 'why, hell-fire. Lee-Mans? Listen here,' and he flashes that marvelous grin, 'it ain't nothin' but a little old country road. We got a lot just like it back in Texas.'
Gurney is much more soft-spoken here, but June 1967 was a hell of a month for him too. Just a week after winning Le Mans, he won the Belgian Grand Prix in a car of his own design, making history once again.
Watch the full interview below. It's worth it.