Billy Boat went through some trials and tribulations before he grabbed the pole position for the 1998 Indianapolis 500.
“We crashed in practice right before qualifying,” Boat said. “I knew we had the speed, but we had some other issues. I knew we had an awesome race car.”
The pole came when the legendary A.J. Foyt gave Phoenix native Boat his shot at Indianapolis.
But mechanical problems in the race kept Boat from Victory Lane that year. But the pole was quite an achievement, and kitchen magnets featuring his picture appeared the next year.
“Any time you can see the leader with 25 laps to go, you’ll have a shot to win it,” Boat said. “We had the best car in ’98.”
In 1999, Boat finished third, his best in seven starts at Indy.
“The third behind Kenny (Brack) was a great accomplishment,” Boat said. “In the heat of the moment, you always want to win.”
Boat joined IndyCar at a time when opportunities opened up for sprint and midget drivers around the country.
“That was always my goal,” he said. “I was at the right place at the right time. I was happy to be there. I did my own team with Cary Agajanian and Mike Curb in 2001 and 2002. But for 2003, the budget was going to go from $1.8 million to $3 million, so we just couldn’t do it.”
Boat was operating an automotive exhaust business in Phoenix before he came to the Speedway.
“I started Billy Boat Performance Exhaust in 1990,” he said. “Since then, I’ve taken a more active role in the company. We work on Corvettes, Camaros and BMWs, high-end performance cars.
“My son Chad was only 8 or 9 when I was racing Indy cars, and I’ve taken an active role in his racing. Now he’s living in North Carolina. He’s going to be 21, and he’s been running some NASCAR and ARCA. He hopes to be in the Nationwide Series next year.
“My brother Mike is still here doing sales for us. My daughter Trisha works in the social media department for Chip Ganassi in Charlotte. My other two daughters, Emily, 17, and Brooke, 18, are into cheerleading, and Brooke goes to Arizona State next year.”
Boat said his IndyCar Series victories at Texas were rewarding, and he was in Victory Lane with Foyt in ’97 when a scoring question arose and Arie Luyendyk came to Victory Lane with his team to protest. A.J. promptly shoved Luyendyk into a flower bed. Through a long audit, Luyendyk was declared the winner.
But Boat confirmed something that has floated around the paddock for a long time: A.J. still has the trophy.