Making it to the 80 Club with Parnelli, Gurney and Uncle Bobby turned out to be tougher than running Langhorne with no power steering for Anthony Joseph Foyt.
"Man it's been a rough two months for this old $%#*," said Foyt on Thursday before turning the Big Eight-Oh today (January 16). "I've been broken up and burned by racecars but never had any health problems until this one and it's been a bitch.
"I went back in a couple days ago to get some cancer taken off my hand and I figured they'd put a Band-Aid on it but I left with a cast on my hand and my left arm in a sling. They said they'd see me soon and I said, 'Oh no, you don't look for another thing! I'm tired of being cut on.' I know if I hadn't had the doctors and care they gave me, I probably wouldn't be here so I have to thank them but I don't ever want to see another hospital."
Admitted shortly before Thanksgiving to have three-way heart bypass, Super Tex came through the surgery fine and was sent home on Dec. 2. But a week later he developed complications and was whisked back to the hospital for two more weeks, where he spent eight days on a ventilator and underwent anothersurgery.
"I woke up one night at home in a pool of blood and I thought maybe somebody had left a horse's head like in The Godfather," he said with a laugh. "But I had infection from bed sores and that's why I needed another surgery. I've been having a nurse come to the house twice a day and I'm healing."
The only driver to win Indy, Le Mans and the Daytona 500 says his heart hasn't caused him any discomfort but being down for almost two months took its toll.
"I haven't had any appetite so I've lost about 50 pounds and that's good. But I never thought at 80 I'd have to learn how to walk again. But I'm making progress: I can walk 100 feet with no cane."
Of course he figured he'd be lucky to make it to 30 in the lethal era he excelled in—the late 1950s and 1960s.
"To be quite truthful, me and Parnelli were lucky we didn't kill each other as hard as we raced but it was a deadly time and we lost a lot of good men," says Foyt, who staged a great comeback in the early '90s after a nasty accident at Elkhart Lake. "I got to run Indianapolis in five different decades and I consider myself very fortunate."
The all-time IndyCar leader in victories (67) and championships (seven) began his Indy 500 career in 1958 at 143 mph in a front-engine roadster and finished it in 1992 at 222 mph in the rear-engine rocket—scoring four wins and an amazing 35 consecutive starts at The Speedway.
"I never thought I'd see cars going wide open around Indianapolis and I never thought I'd see the day when you could show up at Indianapolis and make the field automatically," he continues, referring to the fact there have only been 33 cars at IMS in the past few years.
"My doctors told me it's going to take a while to recover and I hate sitting around but I'm going to listen to them because, come hell or high water, I'll be at Indianapolis. It's the place I love."
This article originally appeared on . Photos courtesy LAT.