INDIANAPOLIS - A.J. Foyt IV had to deal with wind and then fire yesterday before his starting spot in the 92nd Indianapolis 500 was secure.
At least it didn't rain.
The grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt began the final day of qualifying for the May 25 race as a non-qualifier, needing to bump his way into the 33-car field.
The biggest obstacle was the howling wind, blowing at a steady 20 mph and also gusting at times at least 10 mph harder.
But Foyt, who tried twice Saturday to qualify - getting caught by the wind and nearly hitting the wall on his first attempt and having the second try aborted before he even began by a broken gearbox - persevered. Moments after the 2 1/2-mile oval was opened for qualifying at noon, the 23-year-old driver gritted his teeth and made a solid, four-lap qualifying run averaging 219.184 mph.
That was easily good enough to bump Marty Roth, the slowest of the first 33 qualifiers at 215.506, from the field.
About 90 minutes later, Roth, a 49-year-old Canadian land developer, bounced back into the lineup with a four-lap run of 218.965 that knocked 1996 Indy winner Buddy Lazier's 217.939 out of the field and put the 218.010 of Roger Yasukawa "on the bubble" as the slowest qualifying speed.
After Roth's run the track opened for practice and Foyt was involved in the scariest moment of the day.
He was running laps, working on race setup and preparing for the possibility of being bumped and having to requalify, when the cover to his fuel tank blew off. That allowed fuel to pour out of the tank and ignite from the heat of the engine. Within seconds, the rear of Foyt's Vision Racing entry was a ball of flame and his car backed hard into the outside wall.
The fire left Foyt, seeking his fifth Indy start, with a small burn on the back of his neck and singed hair.
"I'm fine mentally, and crashes like this, where you know what happened and what caused it, you can brush those off pretty quick," Foyt said.