Mario Andretti addresses IndyCar questions
Tom and Mario are our guests because Mario is joining the Indy 500 Centennial Tour in January with Morale Entertainment leading the coordination of that tour. During the tour, Indianapolis 500 veteran drivers and those with ties to the greatest spectacle in racing and the IZOD IndyCar Series will visit American military personnel stationed in Europe and southwest Asia. Other confirmed participants include Al Unser, Jr., Johnny Rutherford, Graham Rahal, Davey Hamilton, Larry Foyt, Martin Plowman, Jack Arute, IZOD Trophy Girl Cameron Haven, and IndyCar executive Terry Angstadt.
Tom and Mario, thanks for joining us today.
Q. Tom, I'm going to start with you. Tell us more about the Indy 500 Centennial Tour and the Morale Entertainment Foundation and the vital role both will play to honor the troops defending our freedom across the world.
TOM LEE: The Morale Entertainment Foundation is a non-profit organization made up of volunteers. We take great Americans to visit U.S. bases overseas. We help inspire our troops. We bring a piece of America to the troops and boost their morale.
The Indy 500 Centennial Tour, of course, coincides with the hundredth running of the Indy 500 in 2011. It's also important to note it's the centennial of naval aviation. A nice tie-in there. We're bringing this incredible team of drivers representing past, present and future Indy 500 drivers to the troops. You've already heard this incredible list of people that are going.
It's a great way to kick off this centennial year, the hundredth running year, of course to honor and celebrate our troops overseas. Let's not forget that the Indy 500 is run on Memorial Day, which also honors the troops each year that way.
The Indy 500 is viewed by the military around the world on military bases. It's a very popular event. So this plays in beautifully to that.
We'll travel about 15,000 flight miles. The drivers will meet nearly one-on-one with over 10,000 troops in Europe and southwest Asia. We're also planning to bring with us a special two-seater IndyCar to some of the bases that we'll be visiting. We'll give an incredible opportunity for the troops to have an experience to ride in that car. Imagine how fantastic it would be for Mario Andretti to be in the front seat driving around some of the troops on one of the bases overseas.
Just real quickly, we'll start the tour at Landstuhl Medical Center, which is in Rahmstein, Germany, which is where the wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan are taken mostly within 24 hours of being injured. From there we'll travel to southwest Asia. We'll also be visiting an aircraft carrier as part of this centennial year of naval aviation, we'll visit an aircraft carrier on active duty out in the Arabian Sea. That's a quick summary of what our intentions are.
Q. Mario, talk about your involvement and anticipation of the Indy 500 Centennial Tour, joining the tour to go over and salute our warriors in Europe and southwest Asia.
The fact they said, Well, maybe we'll have the two-seater car shipped over there, and you can give some rides there. I said, You know what, this sounds good, sounds like an incredibly good idea.
I've had the opportunity to visit bases around the world before, and I always welcome that opportunity. I think it always gives you just a great feeling to visit with the military around the world, these young individuals that obviously are out there and serving our country and sacrificing in many different ways. If we can bring a smile to their face for whatever reason, I think it's a great feeling.
So I'm definitely looking forward to this. It's going to be a great experience, I'm sure. Like I said, I hope that it's well-received. I think it should be. I'm sure we have a lot of race fans in the military and we'll see what kind of response we get.
MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Yeah, no question. We're definitely gaining ground. I'm not sure the message is still clear enough to the fan base, that it's down to one series now. But I can tell you that great welcome was the presence of IZOD as a title sponsor of the series. They really get it. These people really get it. They've done a great job this year alone to expose the sport to mainstream America where it once was and where it needs to be.
So on many fronts a lot of good things are happening. So I feel very positive about it and have very good reason for it.
Q. Ironically, unfortunately we've lost the race in Edmonton. Slight chance we may get that back. You've done a lot of promotion work with that event. I know it makes you sad to see that race go.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Yeah, no question. I think a venue like that is definitely a loss to the series. Canada, I love to see at least two races in Canada. The East Coast, the West Coast, makes a lot of sense. Edmonton I think has been a great host to the series. I just hope that maybe they'll work things out because I thought that was one of the good star venues for us to be going back to.
Q. Mario mentioned the great impact that IZOD has had on the IZOD IndyCar Series in its first year at title sponsor. IZOD also has a significant involvement in the Indy 500 Centennial Tour. Tom, if you could talk about that, what IZOD is doing to help the tour.
TOM LEE: We're extremely pleased that IZOD has chosen to become a significant sponsor, as has Kangaroo Express. We hope some others will join. They I believe see sort of the obvious connection between being the series sponsor and how important this is in the centennial year, basically the first event of the year kicking us off for the troops.
They're also going to be providing some swag. We love to give away items to the troops. So I'm sure we'll be giving away a lot of great clothing and other IZOD racing materials which the troops will absolutely love and treasure. Of course, they're going to want to get autographs from people like Mario to treasure for the rest of their lives.
Q. Mario, I think it's fair to say one of NASCAR's troubles in the last year or so has been they're not developing younger fans. How do you feel the IndyCar folks are doing with that? We all know who you and A.J. and all those guys are. I'm wondering if there are people in their 20s and 30s who are really into the IndyCar Series now.
MARIO ANDRETTI: That is a good question. I think the sanctioning bodies in general recognize this.
It's cyclical. It's life. There is a cycle of life for drivers. You've got drivers that obviously have been around a long time. Sooner or later they're going to retire. They almost start all over. The same thing with fans.
But I think the job of the organizing bodies, such as IndyCar, NASCAR, so forth, is to always try to find ways to connect the fans, such as making maybe the drivers more available to the fans, opening up sometimes the pit area to allow the fans to come closer to the racecars and visit. Anything to become fan-friendly, if you will. All these things have a way of really working in a positive way.
I remember myself as a kid just one instant when I was able to get next to a driver, like Eddie Sachs in Trenton. I was shaking in my boots. He actually talked to me. I asked him a question about how he enjoyed the race in Monza, in Italy, when they went there to run on the high banks. He actually answered it to me.
I know how those things work. Us as drivers, when we're out there, I think we have to think in those terms. There could be a day that would impress somebody, and that person could become a fan for life. Those are all the things that are important to remember also to create the fan base.
TOM LEE: If I could add something to what Mario said. It ties into what happens on these tours.
Let's not forget that the average or the bulk of the troops out in the field are 18- to 24-year-old young men and women. I can share with you, we had a concern about connecting with them on one of our recent tours. We took several of the great Apollo astronauts, Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell and Gene Cernan, this was called Legends of Aerospace. We were concerned if these 20-year-old kids would connect with these historic figures that we read about in school.
I have to tell you, it was absolutely amazing. They were rock stars out there. I guarantee you, when Mario, some of these other great drivers, some of the current drivers are out there as well, they're going to connect. The opportunity that these young people would never have to meet these people, just like Mario said, the Eddie Sachs story, which is a terrific story, that will happen over and over again on this tour and we're going to create fans for life in the military.
Q. Mario, when you think of your time at Indy, what comes to mind first, your victory in '69 or the controversial 1981 race?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, all of the above, I suppose. In general, when I look back at my stint at Indy, which goes from 1965 through 1994, in general a lot of people say, Well, you know, the curse, all that sort of thing. But when I look at my record, even though I didn't finish as many races as I would have liked to, I led more races than some of the four-time winners, most of them, all but one.
The point I'm making is I had great experiences there. My memories about me driving at Indy are just totally positive. Again, yeah, you could talk about 1981, that being somewhat of a negative. It was in a sense because of the way it was handled. All in all, even though I finished second, I came in from I think starting last. So that in itself was a great day.
Q. Your vision of the American dream, that's what these guys and women overseas are doing, protecting the American dream. Throughout the recent election campaigns, you heard a lot of negativity about the American dream is dying. I'm wondering what your sense is of this as someone who came over from Italy and built a great career and a great life.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, I can tell you, I'm a perfect example of living the American dream because I'm an immigrant. I was able to realize, again, what I was still dreaming about when I left Italy.
I arrived in the States, and motor racing was the only thing in my mind - besides school, of course, at the age of 15. I started driving here at 19. I would have never had the opportunity if I would have stayed in Italy, for instance. So I did fully realize it because of what this country can provide for you.
If you work hard enough, if you really believe in yourself, those opportunities are out there. I don't think in any way the American dream is dying. Of course, it all depends which side of the aisle you sit on. At the same time, I don't think we can give up on that in any way. I think that's something that we need to keep fighting for because that's made America the greatest country in the world. We can't give that up. If we do, it's shame on us.
Q. Mario, could you give me a comment on how you think Marco is doing, really the entire Andretti team. The victories haven't been there as much as you've wanted. But your thoughts on Marco, really where the team sits right now looking ahead to the coming year.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, I think when it comes to Marco, clearly his results have not shown what his capabilities are, for sure. I can tell you, from where I sit this year, the team - admittedly so - the team itself, engineers, obviously the men conducting the race on the radio, have given up four races for him that he definitely would have finished at least second, but he had a clear chance to win, and that includes Indianapolis.
You just don't give up those opportunities. Like I say, when he was out there busting his butt, they always made the wrong calls. I don't know, just didn't have any gambling in them. Somewhere along the line, you have to have some of that.
Having said that, the team recognizes this. So they're making some changes which I think are going to be very, very positive for Marco, some things I fully agree with. The team will announce it in due time. But that gives me reason to really feel very positive come next year because Marco has really come into his own, I mean, as far as his driving. He's shown a lot of intelligence and a lot of confidence at this stage of his career. I think we're going to see some results from him, for sure.
Q. Next year I believe we have a race on the East Coast which is exciting. We don't have Pocono anymore. Nazareth, where you live, is quiet. The NASCAR folks are all over the place. But it's nice to have an event I believe Labor Day weekend in Baltimore. Your thoughts on maybe getting a nice prime slot on the East Coast again for the series.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, that's great news obviously. I think Baltimore is going to be a great host city for the IndyCars. I saw the layout of the track. I know that's been in the works for some time now.
Again, that's really great news for us on the East Coast. As you said, we haven't been here for a while, for several years. We need to be in this market. So I really look forward to that one down there. I'm sure it's going to be a great success.
Q. Mario, you talked about the American dream. The fact that you were born in Italy during the war, came over here to America, does that make you appreciate the freedom provided by America and also the service personnel who protect that freedom even more because you weren't born in this country and you came here for the freedom?
MARIO ANDRETTI: I think so. I think I have a different appreciation for that aspect of it. If I would have been born here, obviously there are a lot of things that I would have taken for granted, which is natural.
So having been displaced from my native land, even though at a young age, but old enough to certainly be aware of what's going on, seeing my parents, my dad, giving up everything he worked for all his life through no fault of his own, but looking and being concerned about the future of us, my twin brother Aldo, my sister Anna Maria. That's why at this stage of his life he made the decision to come to America, all of that.
Then again, coming over, realizing what America could provide as far as opportunities for us gives us a clear appreciation of what's here. I think maybe I have different values, and all of it is what you're saying. It gives me just a different viewpoint, for sure.
MODERATOR: At this time we have no further questions, so I would like to thank both Tom Lee and Mario Andretti for their participation today in the call. We wish everyone the best of luck on the tour. We thank both of you for your involvement in this tour, what it's going to mean for our troops fighting to protect our freedom overseas. Thank you, Tom and Mario.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Thank you. We look forward.
TOM LEE: Thank you.
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