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MOTOR RACING DAYTONA 500 : Foyt Is Hedging on Retirement

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A.J. Foyt is still a long way from recovering from his leg injuries of last year, but already he is hedging on his announcement that he would retire after the 1991 racing season.

Foyt’s streak of 25 Daytona 500s will end Sunday. He and Richard Petty, who will start from the third position, have both started every Daytona 500 since 1966.

“I don’t know, if I run good here in July (in the Pepsi 400), I might come back next February and give it another try,” he said, a Texas-sized grin sweeping across his scarred face.

“Besides, I don’t want to take anything away from Richard (Petty), but if you look it up, I think you’ll find that he got in one race with a promoter’s option. I qualified for every one I was in.”

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Foyt was close to being correct, but not quite. Two years ago, it appeared that Petty might not qualify among the 40 starters, but an accident in a qualifying race took out some of his competition and he started 34th.

Although Foyt is still on crutches, with one of his feet swollen the size of a small football, the four-time Indy 500 winner insists that he will be practicing in mid-March in his Indy car.

“I’m going down to Phoenix and see what it’s going to take to get me ready,” he said. “I’d like to run at Phoenix in April and then the Indy 500. I’ll be here again in July for the 400.”

Foyt has won the July race here twice, plus the 1972 Daytona 500.

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If he makes it at Indy, it will be his 33rd consecutive start.

“We’re not going to the first CART race next month in Australia,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense to race down there. We’ll start the season at Long Beach (April 14) with Bernard Jourdain driving and then I expect to run Phoenix the following week.”

Foyt said he was undergoing therapy five to six days a week to rehabilitate his legs after a 180-m.p.h. crash during a CART race last September at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.

“I’ve had worse accidents, like when I broke my back at Riverside in 1965, but I’ve never had anything hurt like this one,” he said. “Sometimes it feels like someone is sticking hot needles into my ankle.

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“One reason I’ve been working so hard in therapy is that I want to drive again, but also I didn’t want to be a cripple the rest of my life.”

Someone asked why he wanted to race again. Foyt replied: “I wouldn’t want my career to end in a muddy ditch in Wisconsin, would I?”

Brett Bodine, who destroyed his Buick when he rammed the inside retaining wall during Thursday’s qualifying races, will start at the rear of the field Sunday in another of Kenny Bernstein’s Buicks.

“I was running in traffic and bumped quarter panels with Bobby Hamilton that sent me into the wall,” Bodine said after returning to the track Friday. “When that happened, my steering and brakes went away, and I couldn’t catch it. The car drove itself to the inside wall.

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“It wouldn’t steer--the wheel was just spinning. I remember knowing I was going to hit. That was the worst feeling in the world, knowing you’re going to hit, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

“I don’t remember anything until I got to the hospital. They tell me I walked to the ambulance, with my eyes open, but I was out colder than a mackerel.”

Petty, seven times a Daytona 500 winner, will start in the second row Sunday and his son, Kyle, still looking for his first victory, will start right behind him in the third.

“He beat me again,” Kyle said of Thursday’s twin 125s. “No matter how well I run at Daytona, he seems to beat me. I guess I’ve got to expect that, but I’m pleased my dad ran great. He needed it.”

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Kyle’s car owner, Felix Sabates, offered him a Rolls-Royce if he won last year’s Daytona 500. What will he get if it wins Sunday’s race?

“He gets to keep his job,” Sabates said.

Five cars in the Daytona 500 will be driving Operation Desert Support cars--each representing a different branch of service involved in the Persian Gulf commitment.

Former winner Buddy Baker will represent the Marines, Alan Kulwicki the Army, Greg Sacks the Navy, Mickey Gibbs the Air Force and Dave Marcis the Coast Guard.

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Kulwicki’s Ford will be painted in desert camouflage colors.

“I don’t much care for it,” Kulwicki said. “It’s really hard to see, but I guess that’s the idea of camouflage. Maybe no one will see me when I pass them.”


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