THE winner of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix on Sunday will get a handsome trophy named after American racing great AJ Foyt, whose legendary career was almost done in by the streets of Phoenix, Arizona nearly 60 years ago.
Foyt joined Phoenix Race¬way president Bryan Sperber, Hulman and Co. Chief Executive Officer Mark Miles and Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Graham Rahal and Ed Carpenter for a ceremony on Thursday to unveil the AJ Foyt Champions Trophy, which will be awarded to the winner of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix on Sunday.
The stainless steel trophy features a photo-etched image of Foyt’s face with his signature engraved underneath. The base is made of Grand Canyon onyx found in a local Phoenix quarry.
“It’s an honor [to have the trophy named after me],” Foyt said. “I wish I was younger and able to go out with these guys and compete for it, but I’m not.”
Before he became an IndyCar legend, a relatively unknown Foyt drove from his home in Houston to Phoenix to meet with crew chief Clint Brawner.
Brawner’s driver, Jimmy Bryan, had just quit the team after winning his third IndyCar championship in four years. Despite the success, Bryan was frustrated the team couldn’t capture the elusive Indianapolis 500 victory, so Foyt was called up for an interview.
All Foyt had to do was find Brawner’s home.
The eventual four-time Indianapolis 500 champion was lost in Phoenix’s matrix of avenues and streets, which alternate depending on what side of the city you are on.
“My heart was pounding out of my chest,” Foyt said. “I couldn’t find his house.”
The meeting took place nonetheless and Foyt began his relationship with Brawner that led to his first opportunity to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and kickstarted his illustrious career. That tenure included a win the first Indy car race at Phoenix International Raceway in 1964.