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In 1967 Andretti made the NASCAR crowd swallow crow

This week in Ford Racing
Tuesday, February 09, 2010

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Mario Andretti celebrates winning the Daytona 500 in 1967
Ford Racing great Mario Andretti won the Daytona 500 in 1967 in a Ford when his nephew, John, was only four years old.  When the green flag falls on Sunday’s annual “Great American Race,” John will be in the field driving the No. 34 Window World Cares Ford Fusion, as part of a three-Fusion effort from Front Row Motorsports.  John spoke about the 500 and a common bond he and his uncle share.

JOHN ANDRETTI – No. 34 Window World Cares Ford Fusion – WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT BOB JENKINS?  IS HE CRAZY TO TRY AND DO THIS WITH THREE TEAMS?  “I think a little bit.  I think Bob is opportunistic.  He’s a guy that when something is there and for the getting, and last year was perfect timing to step up and try what we did last year because you could get great people, you could do it for less money and all the things were right.  The stars were aligned.  Now, are they aligned for three cars?  That’s yet to be seen, but Bob actually has a strategy behind all of it and Bob is an extremely intelligent man, so from that standpoint, he understands what he’s doing.  Now, will he achieve everything he needs to do?  That remains to be seen, but it won’t be because of a lack of effort or something in regard to that.  It’s still gonna be a tight program and he’s gonna have to run a tight ship because, just as in anything, funds are limited.”

WERE YOU PLANNING ON RUNNING THIS RACE ALL ALONG OR DID THIS COME OUT OF THE BLUE?  “I was gonna do Daytona.  I said at the end of last year I’m gonna do the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500.  The neat thing for me is being part of the Daytona 500 program to raise money for St. Jude, and I’m just glad with Front Row Motorsports and Window World Cares that we were able to pull all that together.  It’s really spearheaded by Window World through their program.  They want to now raise $1.5 million for St. Jude, which, amazingly, only runs the hospital for a day.”

WHAT ARE THE MEMORIES OF YOUR FIRST DAYTONA TRIP AS A DRIVER?  “Back then there was not a top 35 and all that.  We didn’t qualify good and had to race our way in.  I got here for the 125s back then and I thought, ‘Well, I’m just gonna latch onto somebody,’ and I latched on the rear bumper of Bobby Labonte.  We ran around the whole day.  They ran green to checker with no cautions and Bobby ran out of gas with like two to go, but since I was drafting him I had plenty of fuel and finished sixth or seventh and I was in the Daytona 500.  That was a bigger day for me than the Daytona 500 itself because it would have been nothing for me if I would have missed the race.  Who would have ever remembered other than me?  Everything that happens down here is multiplied and that’s the way it should be.  It’s the Daytona 500.  It’s the start of the season, but it’s also the biggest stock car race in the world.”

YOUR UNCLE, MARIO, WON THE DAYTONA 500 IN 1967 WHEN YOU WERE FOUR.  DID HE EVER TELL YOU ANY STORIES ABOUT THAT DAY?  “The funny thing is when I won the Coke Zero 400 {the July race at Daytona in 1997, with Cale Yarborough Motorsports} in a Ford my uncle called me that night.  He actually kept calling and my cell phone kept getting filled with voice messages and I kept emptying them out, but he was on there all the time.  Finally, he got a hold of me and we talked for five or 10 minutes about winning the race, and I diverted over to the Daytona 500 and he told me stories you wouldn’t believe about that race and everything leading up to it.  It was a good hour-and-a-half later I finally got off the phone that night, but it was a thrilling time for me.  I lived with my uncle while I went to college and he talked to me, but my dad and uncle don’t talk about racing stories.  You think they would sit around and talk about it, but they don’t, and to hear all the things that happened with that, that was awesome.”

Once Mario Andretti passed his Ford teammate, Freddie Lorenzen, NASCAR's 'Golden Boy,'  he pulled away so fast he made him look like a complete wanker.  A late yellow allowed Lorenzen to close up but it was too late, the race ended under caution.
ANY STORIES YOU CAN SHARE?  “It’s a story that everybody tells before my uncle told it.  My uncle told me why it was that way and he didn’t want it to be that way is how loose he drove the car all day.  I think Richard Petty said he would never make it to the end, but, sure enough, he made it to the end.  I guess if he made it to the end he was gonna be there because he drove sideways all day.  But he told me why he had to do that and it was because of something that happened earlier in the week during qualifying that forced him to have to do that.  He told me a couple of other things that he did to help him win the race that I won’t share, but he had 100 different stories.  If you look at Victory Lane, he said the same thing.  It was him and Dee Ann, his wife, and I think the Ford rep and a couple of other people, but not many people were there.”

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