Is there anything in particular that makes you get a little overheated in the sport?

One thing I really hate is when they try to pull the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 (a NASCAR Sprint Cup race for stock cars] together. They're two completely different races. I won four Indianapolis 500s. Jimmy Johnson won four Brickyard 400s. Now they say Johnson has joined A.J. Foyt as a four-time winner at Indianapolis. How can they do that? I'm not saying Jimmy Johnson couldn't drive an Indy car, or that he couldn't have won the race if he'd had to drive 500 miles, but he didn't do those things and it confuses people. . . . No. A.J. won in Indy cars. It's bull crap – though I did run in stock cars a long time ago and won the Daytona 500 (1969). None of their drivers have won Indy. If I'd only had to drive 400 miles at the Indianapolis 500, I might have won eight or nine times.

A few weeks ago, you announced your team is going to field an Indianapolis 500 car next May for Chase Austin, a 22-year-old, minority driver. Do you think it's important to support minorities in the sport?

You look back at the drivers I've had and you'll see I've given a lot of young drivers their start – [Bryan] Herta, Robbie Gordon, Davey Jones. I like to work with young drivers and some of them have been execellent. This kid is 22 and he's been aroud – sprints, modifieds, Indy cars. He wants to come to Indy. Honda is with us on this. I'm glad to do it. I'm looking at it as youth gets a chance, not minority. He's a clean, neat kid. It makes no differernce to me. He's worked his way up . . . I'll give him a shot. I don't see anything wrong with it and I think if we took him to Terre Haute [Ind.], he'd outrun 95 percent of the drivers here [in sprints and midgets]. And he might adapt to Indy cars. We'll see.

You were in Baltimore last year for the first Grand Prix, what kind of an experience did you have?

It was very interesting. We had a nice place where we stayed. I think it was the Sheraton and It had a beautiful view. And flying in, we saw that it's a beautiful city. But I did have one [unexpected] experience, a guy tried to steal a tire and wheel off my trailer. I caught him and he tried to tell me someone had given it to him, and I said, "Bull." He'd just grabbed it off the back and run off with it. But he did give it back.

The race, itself, I thought it was pretty decent, you know. There was a lot of action. That first corner was pretty tight. I'm sure the drivers will like that that turn has been widened. It always makes things more competitive when there is more room to race in.

But you know, when you run a race the first time, mistakes are going to be made, I don't care who you are. Hind-sight is always 20-20. But you have to hand it to them. They had a big set back with that storm that came through there making them rebuild parts of that track twice. They were still paving at midnight the night before the Race. You can't take nothing away from that first bunch. I think they did a hell of a job getting the thing off. And I thought it had a hell of a crowd and they all got into it and enjoyed it.

Is there anything you get tired of?

I get tired of people. I love my fans. Fans kept me in the game all these years. I know they have. There's no doubt about it. In 1990, when I was hurt so bad [broke his left knee and left heel and dislocated his right foot in Elkhart Lake, Wis., crash], the people were all there for me. I do love them, but sometimes you want to be by yourself.

What are you proudest of?

That I've lived to be 77 years old when a lot of people said I wouldn't live past 22. A lot of those who said that are gone now.

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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