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Catching up with Mario Andretti

Photo courtesy Mario Andretti
Mario Andretti is the only driver in history to win a major race in five different decades. He says that is a testament to luck and divine intervention. What he left out was that it takes a driver of unparalleled talent and desire to be that good for that long. He is also the only driver to be named Driver of the Year in three different decades.

But not only was Andretti winning races for a long time, he was winning all kinds of races in all kinds of cars. He has won the Indy 500, Daytona 500, 12 Hours of Sebring, and he won his class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He is a four-time Champ Car national champion, USAC dirt track national champion and a Formula One world champion.

We caught up with Andretti after last week's Indy 500.

Trading Paint: Talk about the atmosphere at the Indy 500, what's it like?

Mario Andretti: I think it’s very tense and exciting at the same time. It’s a very important event, from a career standpoint it carries so much importance. For a young driver it can change the direction of your career.

TP: They say the Indy 500 is the greatest race in the world, what was it like to win it?

MA: I felt relief, if you will. I was relieved in a sense because I wanted it so bad. It’s the race you really strive for and people remember you for it. I finished third in 1965 and I was rookie of the year. I also won my first national championship and I was the youngest driver to do so. But I made an appearance on the Johnny Carson show and they introduced me as the driver who finished third at the Indy 500. That’s when I realized how much everyone identified with that one race.

TP: You've won the Daytona 500, talk about that race and how important a victory that was for you?

MA: It was a matter of pride. I wanted to go over there and race well. I won Daytona before I won Indy. For me, it was a big feather in my cap. Stock cars were not my specialty. But to go down there and win their big race was very important to me.

TP: Which is the better race, the Indy 500 or Daytona 500?

MA: Daytona is exciting, no question. It has really come of age as an event. It has a lot of ambience and attention paid to it. But not as much as Indianapolis. Go to the furthest reaches of the planet and people will know that the Indy 500 is a motor race. I don’t think you can say that for the Daytona 500. Going to the Indy 500 is like going to the Kentucky Derby or the Super Bowl. It's the one event everyone knows.

TP: You've also raced in the 24-Hours of Le Mans, can you talk about that experience?

MA: It’s another one that falls in the category of a classic. Everyone on the planet knows it’s a sports car race. I happen to love the track. I ran it from 1966 to 2000. I love every configuration there. Every stint is like its own race, its own sprint race. You have so much seat time, you learn so much about the car.  More at  Newsday

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