A. J. Foyt says he has lost interest in Sunday's Indianapolis 500.

"I don't care if I run one lap or 200," he said this morning. "It's ridiculous . . . In all my years of racing, this is the silliest thing I've ever seen. I can't believe it."

As he spoke, Foyt was acting pretty silly himself.

He was playing hide-and-seek with a deputy sheriff.

The deputy sheriff was serving summonses to all 33 drivers scheduled to start in the 500. The summonses ordered the drivers to be in court Friday morning when a judge hears a lawsuit asking that the race be called off.

"They get you, Jim?" Foyt called out as car owner Jim Hall walked by.

"Yep," said Hall, and Foyt ducked back inside his garage.

What a hiding place. A. J. Foyt, four-time Indy winner, sneaking around in a garage in Gasoline Alley. Who would ever think to look for him in such a place? Two hours later, the deputy thought of it and tried handing A. J. the legal paper. A. J. batted it out of the deputy's hand and a crew member tossed it into a trash can.

"You touched it," the deputy sheriff said to Foyt. "It's served."

Some news today: the 11 cars seeing another chance to qualify were turned down when two car owners already in the field refused to agree to a second chance for the 11.

More news: some owners of those 11 cars have filed appeals with the United States Auto Club and have threatened to go to federal court if USAC doesn't let them in the race.

What this all means is . . . what?

Well, there may be no race Sunday. That's if a local judge rules in favor of a car owner who wants the thing called off because he thinks he was treated unfairly.

Or there may be 44 cars instead of the rules-mandated 33 in the race! That's if those 11 somehow win another qualifying chance and run faster than the present slowest car.

A. J. Foyt thinks the legal flap-doodle is silly: He liked it a lot better in the old days when if you got cross-ways with a guy, you just walked up to him and punched his teeth sideways.

"It was fun then," Foyt said, his eyes softening as if in memory of an old flame. "Nowadays, if I did that, you'd have 40 lawyers running up there like a lot of jerks. Lawyers and judges are what's wrong with this country. They've ruined it."

Come Friday morning, however, Foyt and 32 other drivers will go to court for a hearing of the lawsuit filed by car owner Wayne Woodward of South Bend, Ind.

Woodward has confessed to cheating during qualifications, for which his car was disqualified. But he says other car owners cheated, too, and yet were given a second chance under new rules. Woodward had no second chance and he is steamed.

Woodward's chances of winning Friday's lawsuit are negligible. The judge, Michael Dugan, is an Indianapolis native who loves the race that made his town famous.Also, he is an elected public official who knows that if he calls off the Indianapolis 500, he might as well move to Caribou, Maine, and run for dogcatcher.

Most likely, Dugan will throw out the suit, saying Woodward did not use up his appeals within the United States Auto Club before going to court.

"It's all a pain in the exhaust pipe," Foyt said, not in those exact words.

Meanwhile, the bumbling USAC has tried frantically-and futilely-to get all the car owners to agree to that extra qualifying run for the "Indianapolis 11." Owners of those 11 cars squawked when USAC changed its rules in the middle of qualifications. USAC originally set a deadline of 5 p.m. Wednesday for getting all 33 qualifiers to agree.

Later that deadline was changed to 8:15 a.m. today . . . and then noon . . . and then 2:30 p.m.

Although Foyt passed word through his chief mechanic yesterday that he would not agree to the extra day's qualifying, he came out in favor of it today. He wouldn't say why he changed his mind. By noon, only two car owners were opposed, one of them Jim McElreath, who said, "I don't care if the Pope Jesus Christ needs a ride, I ain't signin' nothin'."

No one believes Foyt when he says he doesn't care about Sunday's race. Foyt's mind works near the surface of events and he once said fate wouldn't let him win a fourth Indy because he wanted to win too much. So we might discount his professed disinterest as a simple appeasement of the gods of grease.

As for silliness, Foyt is on target there. If this keeps up, they'll need an extra seat in these Indy racers so the drivers can have their lawyers close at hand. Usually by this time in May, drivers are exchanging sweet words such as. "You have wonderful spark-plugs." But this May has had little to do with the beauty of auto racing, and that is what upsets A.J. Foyt.

USAC is locked in mortal combat with a rival group, Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART). Foyt once left USAC for CART but returned to USAC because the CART leaders, he said, were intent on ruling the racing world, not improving it. The current controversies are a result, in part if not entirely, of that alphabet war.

"They could set our type of racing back 10 years," Foyt said. And for wat? He said the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would never deal with CART, no matter how powerful the group becomes. That's because Indy is a name with magic, a name that sponsors pay for.

"People who go to church seven days a week, you ask them what race they ever heard of, the Indianapolis 500 is the only one," Foyt said. "If you were a sponsor spending $1 million, would you sponsor a car for Trenton?"

Would Foyt retire if he wins a fifth Indy?

"I doubt it. I still enjoy driving cars. The only is, with all this harassment, a guy might take a vacation for awhile. This is no fun at all." CAPTION: Picture, Owner Jim McElreath "ain't signing nothin'." UPI