Lucy, A.J., And The Life They Built

INDIANAPOLIS — In the end, the road takes us where it wants to. You can spend the bulk of your adult life dancing with fire, flirting with danger, and come up lucky anyway, walking — maybe limping — through your golden years.

“I’m still looking down at the grass,” A.J. Foyt is fond of saying, shaking his head at the improbability of it all.

Or you can spend your time in the background, a sturdy anchor, watching a dear one go off to take chances and praying for his safe return. And the truth is, your quiet existence holds no more guarantees than his loud one does.

Lucy Foyt died on April 5. She was 84. Since 1955 she had been married to A.J., who for decades was the best-known driver in America. But she was seldom seen, and rarely interviewed; A.J. has talked of wanting to shield her from racing’s hardships, and you sensed that she was fine with that. So she remained a stranger, maybe the most famous motorsports wife we never knew.

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A.J. and Lucy Foyt in the early 1960s. (Foyt Racing photo)

She was born in 1938 to Houston doctor L. Lynn Zarr and his wife, Elizabeth. He was a man of means, so Lucy grew up in a cushy neighborhood. Her future beau, the son of a garage owner from blue-collar Houston Heights, did not. A.J. put it like this: “She was raised in River Oaks, I was raised in the Heights. Big difference.”

They met while Lucy was in high school. A.J., three years older, had dropped out as a senior. But something sparked, and they married in 1955. It had to be love because his racing future was uncertain. But by 1957 he was on USAC’s Championship Trail, the Indy car circuit, and in 1960 he earned the series title.

The next year he won the Indianapolis 500, and nothing was ever the same for the Foyts.

Raising three kids usually kept Lucy away from places like Trenton, Phoenix and Ascot Park. But check the victory photos from Indianapolis in 1961, ’64 and ’67; her grace and her smile were a perfect contrast to the grime on A.J.’s cheeks.

And she was by his side when it mattered most, as he recovered from the wounds of faraway battles. When he broke his back at Riverside, when he was burned at Milwaukee and Du Quoin, when he smashed his legs and feet at Elkhart Lake, it was Lucy, more than anyone, who saw him suffer.

Imagine the relief she felt when A.J. finally retired. And imagine her surprise when trouble still found him, generally on his ranch properties. He was bitten by a brown recluse spider. Dismounting a tractor, he tore a rotator cuff. Twice he was attacked by killer bees; the first episode left 160 stingers in his face. One day his bulldozer slid into a pond and settled upside down in 15 feet of water, and he had to wriggle out of its protective cage.

His replacement parts included an artificial hip and aftermarket knees. Publicly, he bore his scars with a grin. An X-ray of the new hip reminded him of “a ball joint from a ’57 Chevy.” But how many mornings did Mrs. Foyt hear Mr. Foyt groan from lingering pain?

At 77 and 80, he fought off staphylococcus. One staph infection can kill a man. Two couldn’t kill A.J. Foyt.

His luck nearly ran out late in 2014. Working on a piece of land he’d bought, he felt a “bad burning” in his chest. He did not call 911. He called Lucy. She dialed a doctor, who had one order: “Tell him not to move.” Right. A.J. drove to his race shop, then home before heading to Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center.

Within days he had his chest pried open for triple bypass surgery. Lucy was told that her husband would be home in a week.

Of course, he would. That heart of his was as rugged as a 255 Offy. Sure, an oil line or a fitting might occasionally need attention, but the engine itself would not quit.

Before that week was out, however, there were issues elsewhere in the Foyt powertrain. His lungs and kidneys started failing; doctors induced a coma and a ventilator did his breathing for him. His family was told that this might end badly.

Lucy Foyt was solid steel. She stressed A.J.’s desire not to have machines keep him alive. They’d discussed it. These things come up when you dance together into old age.

Then something wonderful happened. It was as Foyt, in his deep sleep, heard all this talk and decided that he was the boss. His kidneys and lungs regained strength. When he awoke from his coma, doctors asked if he knew where he was. Foyt said, “Indianapolis.” Though incorrect, it seemed like a good sign. When they told him that he was in Houston, A.J. argued. You can picture Lucy seeing this feistiness as proof that all was well.

After 25 days, his longest hospital stay, he went home to her. Their time together had another eight years to run.

Now Lucy, bless her, is gone. And for A.J., at 88, life is suddenly very different.

I keep thinking of a line from 2014, when the great mechanic A.J. Watson was in fading health, days from death. Foyt, spending May in Indianapolis as usual, drove to Watson’s house. Both of them knew this was goodbye.

They talked of better times. Then Foyt’s eyes fell upon an old photograph: a gorgeous sprint car with its owner and driver, two crewcut lions named A.J.

He studied the photo. Then he turned to Watson and smiled. For a moment, all the sadness went out of the room.

A.J. Foyt said, “Were we ever that young?”

He will ask that same question now about the photos in his own home, portraits of himself and the former Lucy Zarr when they were two kids with a wide-open future. And, wow, didn’t they make the most of it?


This story appeared in the May 3, 2023 edition of the SPEED SPORT Insider.

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