Happy 80th birthday to the grand champion, A.J. Foyt

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They don’t make ’em like Anthony Joseph Foyt, Jr. anymore. And speaking as a reporter who’s younger than most, that’s a shame.

Foyt – who’s gone through surgeries, bee attacks, and lived through one of racing’s most dangerous periods – turns 80 today. He talked about it earlier this week.

He’s gone through a particularly rough stretch over the last couple months in hospital, having only recently been released following a successful triple bypass.

If North American auto racing – hell, almost any form of racing – was to have a Mount Rushmore, rest assured Foyt and longtime rival Mario Andretti would be two of the faces cemented on there.

Foyt, of course, was the first of three four-time winners of the Indianapolis 500. He has a record 67 victories in North American open-wheel auto racing. He is the only driver to have won the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans. He kicked ass on dirt, then on pavement.

In my years, I’ve really only known him as a team owner, after he retired following the 1992 Indianapolis 500 as a driver following 35 straight ‘500 appearances.

The “vintage AJ” moments I’ve grown up with were Foyt’s tirade at Jeff Andretti at Nazareth in 1991 (funny as “g–d— Jeff Andretti” wound up driving for Foyt in the 1992 ‘500), his retirement from driving emotional speech, his victory lane smack down of Arie Luyendyk in the first IRL race at Texas Motor Speedway in 1997, his laptop smash the following year on a fuel miscalculation at Indy, and his glorious return to victory lane in 1999 when Robby Gordon ran out of fuel and driver Kenny Brack captured that year’s ‘500.

When Takuma Sato brought the now Larry Foyt-led team back to victory lane at Long Beach in 2013, that was a proud moment for A.J. and a great moment for the sport – when a legend’s team still has it, and was able to recover after a decade of drought, it was a very popular win.

All that said, I’ll leave the birthday pieces to those who’ve covered him longer and better than I have – nicely compiled here by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway website and NBCSN contributor Robin Miller on RACER.com.

Here’s a tweet from Mario:

And here’s a brief and by no means comprehensive roundup of other birthday tweets wished to “Super Tex:”

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).