- Associated Press - Saturday, May 11, 2013

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - A.J. Foyt doesn’t let anything get in the way of the Indianapolis 500 _ especially a doctor.

The man who qualified for his first 500 in 1958 and has been back every year since had back surgery less than three weeks ago to alleviate sciatic nerve pain.

But he spent most of the opening day of practice in a familiar spot, sitting comfortably on a stool in the first garage of Gasoline Alley.

It’s not the first time the four-time Indy winner has left his hometown of Houston since having surgery. Last weekend, he made the annual pilgrimage to the Kentucky Derby. He returned home, then flew back to venue that made him one of racing’s biggest stars. Foyt’s doctor didn’t exactly approve.

“I told them I’ve got to go to the Derby because my sponsor is going to be there and then I told him I was coming to Indy,” Foyt said. “The doctor just said you’ll be pushing it.”

When Foyt refused to budge, the doctor did, moving the surgery up one day to give Foyt some extra hours to recover before hitting the road.

Foyt acknowledged Saturday he should have had the procedure earlier but kept putting it off until the pain became so severe, he could barely walk.

Clearly, he’s not back to his old self. Foyt acknowledges he can’t lift much weight, gets fatigued easily and that the medication doctors prescribed have increased his appetite. He praised his son, Larry, for making a close pit call at last week’s race in Brazil and even stayed in his hotel room instead of attending the Kentucky Oaks on the Friday before the Derby.

But the feistiness and the passion Foyt has for Indy has not waned _ as his doctor discovered.

When he suggested Foyt shed a couple of dozen pounds, Foyt agreed, then quickly fired back: “Have you looked in the mirror?”

Meanwhile, Foyt’s team didn’t miss a beat.

While the team owner and his wife were both recovering from back surgery in Texas, driver Takuma Sato won the race at Long Beach _ the team’s first ride to Victory Lane since 2002. And Sato nearly duplicated the feat last weekend, finishing second in Brazil when James Hinchcliffe passed him on the final turn of the race.

But with the 500 on deck, the biggest name in IndyCar racing refused to follow his doctor’s advice and came to town anyway, just as he did in 1958.

“That year I was in the hospital in Cincinnati with a back injury after flipping my car,” Foyt said with a smile. “I had a friend who sent me a copy of that 1958 sports page with the back injury. That’s when all this started.”

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