A. J. Foyt
No Pain, No Gain
While Foyt racked up impressive records and statistics in his long racing career, he also racked up several injuries, some of which were life-threatening. In a sport as dangerous as auto racing, injuries are common. What is uncommon is the fact that Foyt repeatedly bounced back from injuries that might convince other racers to pack it in. His first serious injury came in 1965 during a NASCAR race in Riverside, California. His brakes failed, and he tried to avoid crashing into Junior Johnson and Marvin Panch, two racers who were in front of him. In the process of avoiding this crash, Foyt flipped his car down an embankment, breaking his back and fracturing his heel in the process. By the time the medics, a fellow racer, and a team owner descended the 25-foot embankment and reached Foyt's car, Foyt was not breathing, his skin was blue, and they assumed he was dead. However after noticing some slight movement, and scooping the mud out of Foyt's mouth, he was able to breathe again and they took him to the hospital.
Foyt has been severely burned on several occasions, as in 1972, during a dirt-car race in DuQuoin, Illinois, when he was set on fire. During a pit stop, the fuel hose broke lose and sprayed two gallons of alcohol-nitro mixture onto Foyt's head. Assuming that it would evaporate, Foyt started to drive out of the pits. Unfortunately, one of his car's side-mounted exhaust pipes backfired, setting Foyt's head ablaze. In his panic, he jumped out of the car, intending to jump into a lake in the infield. However, the car was still moving, and the left rear tire rolled over his leg, breaking his leg and ankle. Still on fire, Foyt attempted to hobble to the infield, while his father chased after him, eventually catching up to him and spraying him with a fire extinguisher.
Foyt experienced his most painful injury during an Indy car race in 1990, at the Road America course in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Once again, as in the 1965 NASCAR race, Foyt's brakes failed. Since he was going 190 mph and was coming up on a 90-degree turn, Foyt did the only thing he could to avoid a fatal roll—he plowed straight through the wooden wall, sending his car airborne into a dirt embankment. In the process, Foyt broke his left knee, dislocated his left tibia (which shot up his leg, through his knee, and into his thigh muscle), crushed his left heel, dislocated his right heel, and suffered compartment syndrome in both feet. Foyt remained awake as the rescuers tried to unearth him, and he pleaded with them to hit him in the head with a hammer and knock him out so he would not have to feel the excruciating pain. Following these massive injuries, Foyt's peers assumed that he would announce his retirement. However, Foyt surprised everybody by undergoing a grueling physical therapy regimen with the Houston Oilers's strength-and-rehabilitation coach, Steve Watterson, in an attempt to come back and win a fifth Indianapolis 500 race. Although he did not win the Indianapolis 500 in 1991, he did compete in it that year and in 1992, the latter at the seasoned age of fifty-seven.