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:”