A. J. Foyt was seriously injured today during the Norton Michigan 500-mile race when his car struck a wall. Fifty-five laps earlier, a fire had roared through four pit areas at Michigan International Speedway, injuring 14 persons and delaying the race for 1 hour 39 minutes.
Pancho Carter won the race, delayed six days because of rain last weekend, surviving an early spin out and a late charge by Tony Bettenhausen.
Foyt, 48, had to be cut out of his Coyote-Cosworth, the right side of which had been sheared off, with power tools. The four-time Indianapolis 500 winner from Houston, regarded as America's premier race car driver, was taken to the track first-aid station for treatment, then was flown by helicopter to University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, about 30 miles away.
The hospital later reported him in fair condition after two hours of surgery on a compound fracture of his right arm and a puncture wound in his left leg. Track officials said he was knocked unconscious in the wreck but was regaining his senses as he was being placed into an ambulance.
Foyt was running 11th on lap 80 when he struck the wall on the second turn.
The fire started during refueling of the methanol alcohol-based mixture used for the Indy-style cars. The blaze was extinguished after about 20 minutes of frantic effort by firefighters. Two persons were hospitalized, one wtih severe burns and the other with a deep leg cut.
Of the 14 injured in the fire, 12 were treated for minor burns or smoke inhalation and released from the track's first aid station.
Graig Nelson, a member of driver Herm Johnson's crew, was taken to the University of Michigan Burn Center in Ann Arbor with first- and second-degree burns of the feet. Jay Signore, a member of the Roger Penske team crew, was cut on his left leg and was taken to Foote East Hospital in Jackson.
Race spokesman Mike Knight said the fire was ignited by the hot engine of Johnson's car about 2:40 p.m., on about the 27th lap of the race, as Johnson's car was being refueled. The race was under a yellow flag at the time because of an accident.
Johnson suffered minor facial burns and was released. His car was badly damaged and was removed from the race.
The blaze appeared to begin around the fuel hose coupler into Johnson's car. The crewman holding the hose dropped it and the hose burned off. One fuel tank ignited, spitting out a massive jet of flame for about three seconds until an automatic shut-off valve kicked in.
The fire spread to the neighboring pits of Dick Simon, Bobby Unser and Roger Rager as crew members scurried for safety.
Johnson was among those injured suffering minor facial burns.
Firefighting efforts initially were hampered because the methanol fuel burns without visible flame. Firefighters sprayed thick clouds of chemicals onto the cars and injured crew members as the blaze swept to equipment piled near the tanks. An air compressor near Johnson's tank exploded, sending about 100 people scattering and prompting gasps and screams from a crowd of about 60,000.
The race was red-flagged on the 30th lap and was restarted on that lap after the fire damage had been cleaned up. The cars ran four laps under the yellow flag to warm up their engines before being given the green flag to restart the race.
Carter's victory was protested by bettenhousen's crew, which contended the winner's car had been started illegally by pushing after a pit stop. But race stewards disallowed the protest. bettenhausen, the only driver on the 250th lap with carter, finished just 1.6 seconds behind. Only 11 of the 37 starters were running at the end.