LEXINGTON, OHIO—A.J. Foyt Racing announced this morning it is joining with Starting Grid, an organization founded to help diversity motorsports, and American Honda to field a car for Chase Austin, 22, who has long been considered a solid prospect in both open wheel and stock car circles, in next May's Indianapolis 500.
At the news conference, Austin couldn't keep the smile from his face.
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"A couple of my friends called last weekend and said, 'Come party,' and I said, 'I can't. I'm training for a race.' They asked what race and I said, "The Indy 500.' They said, 'Isn't that next year?' And I said, "Yeah." - I'm already into my training program."
It's a one=race deal. It could be viewed as a way for Foyt Racing to get more publicity and little more. But Larry Foyt, A.J. Foyt's son and the team director, said that's not the way he and Foyt Racing are looking at it.
"Just because it's a one-race deal now, doesn't mean it couldn't grow into something more," Larry Foyt said. "I think if you look at Chase's track record, you see he's been recognized as a talent for a long time. He was signed at age 14 by [NASCAR Sprint Cup car owner] Rick Hendrick, but he's had a lot of bad breaks.
"I had friends in Kansas talking about Chase years ago and I enjoy watching a young guy come up and get an opportunity to go to Indianapolis. It's the natural place for us to do this, to give him a chance, because it's the one place we go with a multi-car team."
Last year, Austin became the first African-American driver to compete in the Firestone Indy Lights Series with Willy T. Ribbs Racing. If he qualifies for the 500 next May, he will become only the third African-American driver to ever compete in the race in its 97-year history.
This is the third year of a motorsports diversity initiative between Starting Grid and American Honda.
As for the crusty elder Foyt, he said he is impressed by Austin's versatility.
"My son Larry and I have watched Chase drive and want to give him a chance," the four-time Indy 500 winner said. "What I like about him is that he has drivenn all types of race cars with different horsepower in his career. 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."