Mario talks about his Indy win
A parade is a special occasion to any 6-year-old, but initially it was a bit confusing when Michael Andretti was part of the procession in his hometown of Nazareth, Pa., to honor his father, Mario, who won the 1969 Indianapolis 500.
|Andretti taking checkered flag to win 1969 Indy 500|
"I just remember trying to figure out why we're sitting on the back of a car waving at people going down the street," says Michael, was also remembers playing in the back yard of his Uncle Aldo's house with his cousins on Race Day. "I remember we were right behind the Green Monster. If you remember the Green Monster that they did for the Bonneville Salt Flats, I thought that was really cool at that time."
Such memories are occasionally brought up during family gatherings - usually at racetracks -- and are especially poignant on the 40th anniversary of Mario's 500-Mile Race victory. It was a seminal moment in the Hall of Fame career of Andretti, who made 29 starts in the Indianapolis 500 and placed in the top 10 11 times.
Click it: Mario Andretti's Indy 500 career statistics
"I only show one win, but I'm one of the top two all-time lap leaders, so I've had a good time here," says Andretti, who went on to win the '69 USAC season championship among multiple titles. "I've been close to winning and dominating this thing many times. There's a luck factor involved, and luck is an abstract. The fact that I know I did my job and some of the failures were beyond my control; that's what gives you peace, I suppose. Even with just one victory in so many tries, I've still had a lot of positive moments here."
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The '69 victory was long-awaited in itself after a successful start at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway five years earlier.
"It was so meaningful for so many reasons because my rookie year was '65 and I got rookie of the year and finished third, and then in '66 I'm on pole and '67 I'm on pole and we had problems," he says. "In '68, I exited the race on the second lap when the engine exploded. In those five years, I won three national championships and I coming up to put together another season and I had what I thought was a great combination going with the new Lotus four-wheel drive after the success Lotus had with the turbine."
But the car proved too fragile to stand up to the rigors of the Speedway, and Andretti drove the backup machine - the day glow red STP Brawner Hawk III turbo Ford.
"It's almost good that I crashed - the wheel came off - because it sort of opened our eyes that it wasn't the car that would finish the race," says Andretti, who went on to start second and led 116 laps in beating Dan Gurney to the finish line. "The car that we wound up racing was one that we never intended to race here, but it was fresh from the win at (Marchbanks Speedway) Hanford, Calif.
"There were a lot of factors that gave me reason to figure that here's another race that I'm going to go by the wayside, yet the thing just went on and on and on. I was overheating the entire race and then we won it. We put it together and we won it.
"I was so happy to win it for (team owner) Andy Granatelli on top of everything else, knowing that he put so much into winning Indianapolis over the years with the Novi and then the turbine cars and to do it the conventional way to me was great satisfaction on top of what I got out of personally. I'm glad I was the one to give him the first (STP) victory."
Andretti will be at the Speedway on Race Day, cheering on his grandson, Marco, who will compete in the No. 26 Team Venom Energy car for Andretti Green Racing. He'll start eighth in his fourth Indy 500.
"The thing about my grandfather that really sets him apart from a lot of other really brilliant drivers is that he mastered whatever he drove and he won in whatever he drove," says Marco, 22, who counts second- and third-place finishes in his brief career. "It was just so huge. It's big for the family; it's the only one in the family. I can't put into words what it would be like to win it. If you're a winner in that place it makes your career. The way I look at it, you're either an Indy winner or you're not. That differentiates you.
"I want to win that race. I hope it's in the cards. Being that it's the 40th year, that would be really cool."
Hours before the stirring pre-race ceremonies honoring U.S. military men/women and the colorful festivities, Mario will join his son Michael, co-owner of Andretti Green Racing and the race strategist for Danica Patrick, brother Aldo and his son, John, who will be competing in the No. 43 entry, and Marco for breakfast. They'll briefly discuss the race before the conversation melds into the family history and heritage at Indianapolis.
"It's an event full of great emotion and certainly one you never forget," Mario says. "It touched so many aspects of very good efforts over the years and again I thought, 'Gee, God-willing, I'd probably put together another half-dozen.' I guess the race should have been 400 miles. That's the beauty of Indianapolis. There's magic attached to it. Strong tradition, everything the event stands for, so popular.
"It seems like people never forget and they don't let you forget you've won it, which is great. That's the beauty of our sport, the beauty of our fans - they're dedicated, they're local and they appreciate a good thing." IndyCar.com