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By Carey Lundin
Imagine you're hurtling down the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at speeds above 200 mph. The most minute touch of your steering wheel could send you into the wall. You're pushing your car to the limits of your control. This is known as "the ragged edge."
Some drive with the control of a fine lead pencil; others with a crayon. Sharp pencils drive fast, fast, fast.
Today I had the good fortune to hang around the Gasoline Alley garage of Indy Car legend A.J. Foyt and his team. It was a rained-out practice day. So what, you say? That's not the race.
Ah, but it is the race. Like creating a great movie, it's here where the race can be won or lost. How you work your limitations . . . how you trust your team.
A.J. Foyt was a guy who, when he was driving, didn't make that much money. The thrill was in the winning, so he "hung it out all the way." He was and is one sharp pencil.
Indy Car racing, especially on ovals, is deceptively simple. Every car uses the same Honda engine, Dallara chassis and Firestone tires. That means it's all about the set-up and out-smarting the other drivers.
If you're right, the car "sticks" in a turn, if you're wrong, it can spin out and you're probably out of the race. Your confidence is all you've got.
Vitor Meira, new to Foyt Racing, but a seasoned driver, is excited to be driving for Foyt.
"When you think you've done a lot of racing, come talk to him," Meira says. "He'll change your perspective."
Foyt has three generations on the track this year: himself, his son Larry, the team director, and his grandson A.J. IV, who grew up with Larry.
At 24, A.J. IV is already a veteran; this is his sixth year at the Indy 500.
"I've got two boys who wanna win real bad," Foyt the elder says. "That's why I have A.J. (IV) and Vitor. Vitor's run second here twice, A.J's never had a good run here, cars and mechanics have screwed him up most of the time. We're going to have a good crew behind him. I know he can win."
Missing almost all of your practice before qualifying is like going into an audition with Scorsese cold.
"It hurts," says Larry, "it's one of the more difficult tracks, you need all the track time you can get."
Vitor tells me that they really need three days.
A.J. IV considers it a setback, "being as I haven't been in a car in over six months. I was really looking forward to getting into the car. But it's May." Rain is expected. As are accidents as people push themselves to qualify in the top eleven with potentially little practice.
The drivers need to find the perfect balance so their car is handling well all around the track, in traffic or alone. The team and driver need time and practice to know each others' tolerances and to have consistently efficient pit stops. "Everything's gotta fall your way race day, you're just as good as your team," says Foyt.
Saturday, otherwise known as Pole Day at the Speedway, could be crazy. We'll soon see who can hang it out all the way by running on the ragged edge.
Carey Lundin is the Beachwood's auto racing correspondent. She welcomes your comments.
Previously in RoadNotes:
* Slouching Toward Indy
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