IndyCar racing came roaring back to Arizona when A.J. Foyt was honored in Phoenix today. Executives from both IndyCar and Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) unveiled the new race trophy, made of Grand Canyon onyx, and it has A.J.’s name on it.
The Phoenix Grand Prix will take place under the lights on Saturday night, April 2, 2016. Foyt won the inaugural race at PIR, the Phoenix 100, on March 22, 1964.
“It was a different world and a different track back then,” Foyt told reporters at a news conference in front of the Heard Museum in Phoenix today. “It was hairy and very dangerous, they don’t realize how nice it is today since when we first run there,” he said in reference to the good old days and PIR’s recent one mile oval track improvements. “It was tough to race, it was very fast and it still is, just a lot safer. Phoenix has been great in a lot of ways for me. You can’t forget the people who helped you start. I’d say right here in Phoenix is where I got my big start. I’m just glad to be back here.” Foyt added as he stood behind race car 16 and the new trophy.
After the 1964 victory, Foyt went on to win a record 67 Indy car races and seven IndyCar championships as a driver, including the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, 1964, 1967 and 1977, as well as the IndyCar championship in 1998 and Indianapolis 500 in 1999 as a team owner. Foyt has had multiple drivers on his open-wheel racing team.
This Saturday’s race is part of the Verizon IndyCar Series and has track officials excited.
“We are thrilled to add the Verizon IndyCar Series to the 2016 race schedule at Phoenix International Raceway,” PIR President Bryan R. Sperber said. “IndyCar has such a loyal and dedicated fan base in the Valley, and we look forward to bringing the fastest racing action in America and the biggest stars racing to Phoenix.”
The Phoenix Grand Prix will be the second race in the 2016 schedule for the Verizon IndyCar Series, following the season opening race at St. Petersburg, Fla. on March 13. The highlight of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule will be the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race on Sunday, May 29, and the season finale will be on September 18 in Sonoma, Calif.
“The historic significance of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season is marked by the return of several storied venues, including Phoenix International Raceway,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, the parent of IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Legendary Indy car names like Foyt, Unser, Andretti, Ruby, Rutherford, Sneva, Mears, Castroneves and Kanaan have all won at PIR in the past. It is an integral part of our sport’s rich heritage and we are quite pleased to have this great mile oval back on the schedule going forward.”
Other news this week included the new naming rights for the race. It will, technically, be called Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. The Tohono O’odham Indian Nation’s new Desert Diamond West Valley casino won the new title sponsorship.
This tribe’s new casino, near the stadium where the NFL Cardinals play, has not come without controversy. According to Arizona’s two largest newspapers, other Arizona tribes opposed the casino opening, as did elected officials. The tribe worked to ensure specific language was entered into gaming regulations. If opponents had prevailed, there would be no casino and, presumably, no race sponsorship.
But the tribe is going forward with many marketing campaigns, and will add new gambling games. “We are very excited to be partnering with PIR on the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix,” said Andy Asselin, CEO of Desert Diamond Casinos & Entertainment.
Qualifying for Saturday’s race is Friday. The Grand Prix will get its motors running at 6 p.m. Saturday.