Humor can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers, and this past year has been about as much of a blow as anyone could imagine. That said, I decided I wanted to bring a little humor to Speed News this month, and I couldn’t help but laugh remembering a story a friend wrote.
I was lucky to have enjoyed a friendship with one of motorsports greatest commentators and journalists, Chris Economaki. Chris passed away just a few years after we became friends, but he shared a hilarious story with me from his book “Let ‘Em All Go!” which he sent to me only months before his passing.
“In 1964, A.J. Foyt was having a tremendous season, winning nearly all the championship races. We were scheduled to travel to a one-mile dirt oval at the California State airgrounds in Sacramento, to tape a 100-miler for ABC’s ‘Wide World of Sports.’ Roone Arledge, the head of ABC sports, told our producer not to come back to New York without a taped interview with Foyt that weekend.
The producer was new to ABC and auto racing, and he was all uptight about carrying out Arledge’s orders. We’re leaving for Sacramento and he was already on my back, saying, ‘Chris, the most important part of our visit this weekend is an A.J. Foyt interview.’
I shrugged my shoulders and said, ‘So?’
‘You don’t understand the importance of this,’ he said.
‘I’ll talk to A.J., no problem,’ I assured him.
We get to Sacramento on Thursday, and the race is on a Saturday. The producer eagerly says, ‘Tomorrow morning, early, we’ll go out to the track and get the Foyt interview.’
‘There’s nobody there on Friday,’ I objected. The race was a one-day event, with practice, qualifying, and racing on Saturday.
‘We’re going to go out anyway, just in case he’s there,’ he said gruffly.
We go out to the track early the next morning, and of course there is nobody there. Saturday morning the producer comes to see me, bright and early.
‘Chris, The first order of business is the Foyt interview,’ he insisted.
‘Look, what’s he gonna say? He hasn’t even practiced yet.’
‘I don’t care,’ he said. ‘I want that A.J. Foyt interview!’
So I walk out to the pit area and Foyt is busy with the car. A few minutes later the producer radios, ‘Did you talk to Foyt yet?’
‘I can’t bother him right now. He’s setting up the car,’ I explained.
‘He’s getting ready to go out and practice in a few minutes.’
Foyt goes out to practice, and now the producer is getting frantic.
‘Goddam it, Chris, it’s 10:30 and we haven’t spoken to Foyt yet! Talk to Foyt!’
Finally A.J. finished practicing and comes back to his pit, and I approach him.
‘Pardon me, A.J., do you have time to talk with us?’
The producer is shouting, ‘Stop everything, Chris has got Foyt!’
He sends a cameraman and two other staff members running to the pit, hurriedly getting set up for the interview. It was a really big deal. We’ve only got a few moments before A.J. has to get ready to qualify, so it has to be on the first take. I began the interview.
‘A.J., I noticed you walked around the track this morning before you went out to practice. What do you learn from walking the track before you take your car out?’
Foyt says, ‘Well, Chris, to be honest with you, I can’t take a s**t in the morning until I’ve had a good long walk.’
The producer screams, “Whaaa … What’d he say??!!’”
And that was the Foyt interview that never made it to the air.
As NASA drivers, we all know that things don’t always turn out the way we planned or the way we think they should, but one thing we do know is we share a lot of laughs together.