A.J. Foyt Racing’s IndyCar team has shops located in both Waller, Texas, and on Main Street in Speedway, Indiana. That places the team under the jurisdiction of two state governments.
Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb issued a mandatory “Stay at Home Order” on March 23 that will run through April. Meantime, Texas was advocating “social distancing” that allowed businesses to remain open as long as individuals stayed 6 feet or more apart.
On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a mandatory “Stay at Home Order beginning at 12:01 a.m. Thursday that will run through April 30.
AJ Foyt Racing conceivably could have closed their Indiana shop while continuing to work in Texas.
But the team owned by four-time Indianapolis 500 winning driver AJ Foyt decided to play it safe ever since returning from the aborted Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in mid-March.
Foyt’s son, Larry, is the president of the team. Scott Harner is vice president of operations.
“We told everybody stay with your family and be healthy,” Harner told NBCSports.com. “The No. 1 thing is keep everybody healthy and try to not have anybody in the hospital. The best thing for that is to have everybody stay at home.
“After St. Pete, the trucks came back. Cars got put back in the bays. We have a cleaning service that have come in and done their thing, so that hasn’t been an issue there.
“We are paying everyone throughout, as well, without any salary cuts.
“It is going to be difficult, but the President of the United States (along with the Senate and House of Representatives) has shown they are about making everybody whole to do their best to help the companies get through this. A lot of these companies will get relief and some help. Corporations and individuals should both get help and if they stay the course, that is going to help fill the void and make everybody feel better.
“There are going to be ups and downs, but we should be able to get through this.”
The plan for now is to let the employees retain vacation time, though there may be some modifications to the annual “week off” after the season concludes. This year, that would have been at the end of September, but with a revised schedule, the end date is expected to run through October, possibly November if the schedule has to be revised again.
“We haven’t got to that point yet,” Harner said. “The hope is getting back to work by the end of May. I haven’t spoken to Larry Foyt yet about this topic, but we’re going to take our Thanksgiving break and we’re going to take our Christmas break.
“Might we lose the week after the season ends? Absolutely. But everybody understands what we are up against. We’ll just make it work. It’s going to be one of those unique years that whatever is in the handbook is going to go out the window, and we’ll make it all work.”
The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg originally was canceled but is being revived as the potential season-finale sometime in October.
“It’s one of our great events and to get that back on the schedule is going to be big for everybody,” Harner said.
Last Thursday, IndyCar announced a revised schedule that hopefully will begin May 30-31 with the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader. That is completely predicated on if the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is under control by then.
The 104th Indianapolis 500 has been moved from May 24 to Aug. 23 when it’s hoped to be safe for large crowds to gather.
“I think it’s great that we got it out sooner than later,” Harner said of last Thursday’s announcement. “We have sponsors that we all have to deal with and answer to and get some clarity. To give them some clarity settles everyone’s nerves. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”
It also will be an extremely busy time ahead if the new schedule goes off as planned. There will be long stretches of the season with racing practically every weekend.
“Is it going to be trying? Sure, it is,” Harner said. “Everybody is in the same boat. They know what we are up against. It’s unprecedented times that no one has ever seen before and hopefully something we never see again. It’s a matter of trying to make it all work. I can’t imagine the amount of time that was spent with Jay Frye (IndyCar President) and the IndyCar group and the NBC group and the tracks to piece it all together and make it all work. I’m sure it was endless hours trying to get it all done.
“It all comes down to the fans and sponsors, and that is the No. 1 thing we have to be cognizant of. If we get 14 races in, that’s great. Eight weeks in a row, it will be eight weeks in a row. If it’s 14 weeks in a row, well that’s what it is.
“We have to make this work, no matter what.
“It would be one thing if it was just us, but every sport out there has canceled everything. There is only so much TV time available and it will be substantially different, for sure.”
When the Hulman-George Family announced the sale of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Indianapolis 500 and IndyCar to Roger Penske on Nov. 4, 2019, it was relinquishing control of the historic facility for the first time since November 1945. Penske officially took control on Jan. 6, 2020.
With Penske leading the series into a new era, IndyCar was riding a wave of momentum.
That has been brought to a screeching halt by an invisible virus that can be fatal to some, devastating to many.
Beating the COVID-19 virus is priority No. 1 across the world. Once that happens, and life returns to whatever “normal” is, will IndyCar be able to get that momentum back?
“I don’t think anybody involved can underestimate the impact of having Roger in place, and what this would look like if he wasn’t,” Harner said. “I don’t think from the ownership level, all the way through this series, anybody would want anyone else in charge to steer us through this or any other issue that might come along. We all knew it was a great thing for him to take over. He is the best guy to be in this position right now.”
But once Americans are allowed to leave their houses and return in public, will they want to sit next to complete strangers at large gatherings? Will they feel safe at a public sporting event?
“There will be things that come out of this that will change how we do some parts of our life forever,” Harner said. “Once we get over this hump and it appears it is under control, I think people will be ready to be out and get together and do things.
“This is unprecedented times. People aren’t used to being trapped at home or in their apartment. Human beings and social distancing are things we aren’t used to doing. Once we get beyond this thing, I think getting people to come out won’t be a challenge.”
That is the big picture view. From the team view, Sebastien Bourdais was sharing the No. 14 Chevrolet with rookie Dalton Kellett. Tony Kanaan was scheduled to run that car on the five oval races on the schedule. Charlie Kimball is in the No. 4 entry.
Bourdais’ schedule has been cut because of cancelations to the April contests, but the team is moving forward trying to bring him a full-time ride in 2021.
“I know Larry is working hard at it and Sebastien as well,” Harner said. “When Sebastien became available for us, it was a great opportunity to get him back in the car and help us as an organization find a way. We thought that would be beneficial for us and the new engineering group to get some feedback from him and get his take to where our cars are. We are happy Portland and St. Pete are on the schedule and that will give us the opportunity to get Sebastien in the car.
“None of TK’s oval races have been affected, and that is huge. Tony is pretty amazing on the ovals. As we all know, he is training harder than ever and will be chomping at the bit to get back in the car on the ovals and be ready to go.”