The only state in the U.S. to have been an independent republic (from 1836 to 1845), Texas has always been a breeding ground for extraordinary personalities: heroes of the Alamo, military leaders of World War II (Dwight Eisenhower, Chester Nimitz), one of the most famous blues and rock bands in music history (ZZ Top) and Oscar winners (Tommy Lee Jones, Matthew McConaughey, Forest Whitaker, Renee Zellweger). Motorsport is no exception to the rule with three Texans making their mark in endurance racing and the 24 Hours of Le Mans: A.J. Foyt, Jim Hall and Ben Keating (the latter set to take the start in the fifth round of the 2019-2020 FIA World Endurance Championship season on Sunday.
A.J. Foyt, the Texas-size track record of "Super Tex" – A motorsport icon in his country in multiple motorsport disciplines, Anthony Joseph "A.J." Foyt Jr. (also known as "Super Tex") is the only driver to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the two American oval circuit classics, the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. In 1967 just 10 days apart, the Houston native won in Indiana and in France, then the NASCAR main event in 1972. After becoming the first four-time Indy 500 winner in 1977 (he still holds the record for participations), as he approached his 50s, he topped off his endurance racing track record with two victories at the 24 Hours of Daytona (1983 and 1985) and one at the 12 Hours of Sebring (1985). Today 85 years young, Foyt is still active in motorsport as a team owner and this year is represented by Le Mans native Sébastien Bourdais in IndyCar.
PHOTO ABOVE (COPYRIGHT - ACO/ARCHIVES): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, FINISH, SUNDAY 11 JUNE 1967. Less than two weeks after his third win at the Indianapolis 500, A.J. Foyt (at the wheel) won the 24 Hours for his one and only participation. He wouldn't return to Le Mans until 2017 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his victory shared with Dan Gurney (seated on the hood, facing Foyt).
Jim Hall, the power of imagination – In 1935 was born Jim Hall, the heir to a large oil fortune, in Abilene, Texas. He first started in motorsport as a driver then became a constructor in 1961 under the name Chaparral. After several wins in the U.S., Hall joined the World Marques Championship. For its first appearance in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1966, three years after Hall's rookie start in the race as a driver at the wheel of a Ferrari fielded by the NART, Chaparral recruited Phil Hill, the first American-born winner of the 24 Hours, and British driver Mike Spence. At the same time, Hall was one of the first to consider mobile spoilers, even before Formula 1 showed interest. So equipped, his Chaparral 2F infiltrated the great Ford-Ferrari duel at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1967 by qualifying on the front row. However, both of Hall's cars were forced to retire. At the end of the season, Hill and Spence won the 1000 km of Brands Hatch, the last race of the World Marques Championship without the 3-liter limitation. It was the Chaparral's last appearance in the 24 Hours, but Hall's involvement in motorsport was far from over. In 1970, he presented the 2J equipped with two fans intended to create a vacuum under the car. And in 1980, the 2K became the first ground-effect single-seater to win the Indianapolis 500. The world of endurance racing has not forgotten the spectacular Chaparral prototypes: in 2015, Hall served as the Grand Marshal at Lone Star Le Mans which hosted the World Endurance Championship and the IMSA at the same time.
PHOTO ABOVE (COPYRIGHT - ACO/ARCHIVES): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, 10-11 JUNE 1967. The effectiveness of its spectacular mobile spoiler made the Chaparral 2F powered by a Chevy 7-liter V8 one of the major draws of the 35th 24 Hours of Le Mans. The two fielded in the race were driven by Phil Hill-Mike Spence (#7) and Bob Johnson-Bruce Jennings (#8), pictured here in front of the Ferrari of Michael Parkes and Ludovico Scarfiotti (second).
Ben Keating, from GT to prototype – Born in 1971 in the Houston suburb of Tomball, Ben Keating started his career in competition in 2006 at the age of 35, after carrying on a long family tradition of Ford dealerships. He debuted at Le Mans in 2015 at the wheel of a Viper GTS-R before moving to the LMP2 class with Riley (2016) then ORECA (2017). In 2018, he returned to GT and claimed his first podium finish at the 24 Hours with third place in LMGTE Am driving a Ferrari 488 GTE fielded by Keating Motorsports, in collaboration with Risi Competizione also based in Texas. Recently, Keating gave two exceptional performances in endurance racing. In December, his three-hour stint early in the race greatly contributed to the win of Team Project 1's Porsche in the LMGTE Am class at the 8 Hours of Bahrain, the fourth round of the FIA WEC. Then in January, Keating finished third in LMP2 (10th overall) at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, after scoring pole position in the class. At the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, he will share Team Project 1's #57 911 RSR with Brazilian driver Felipe Fraga and Dutch driver Jeroen Bleekemolen, his teammates at the 24 Hours of Le Mans last year.
PHOTO ABOVE: LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, 15-16 JUNE 2019. After his LMGTE Am podium finish with Ferrari in 2018, Ben Keating became the first team owner to field a Ford GT in the class. It was a milestone for the Texan driver whose family had been a Ford dealer for three generations!
Let us not forget Carroll Shelby, the Texan driver-constructor played by Matt Damon in the two-time Oscar-winning film Le Mans 66 (Ford v Ferrari).
To learn more about the man who won the 1959 24 Hours as a driver and as a team owner went on to give Ford its first two victories at Le Mans in 1966 and 1967, read the article below:
BREAKING NEWS: THE 24 HOURS OF LE MANS POSTPONED TO 19–20 SEPTEMBER 2020