Mario Andretti does not like IndyCar season ending early About driving the two-seater Indy car, he says, “I go as fast as the thing will go. If they make it go faster, I’ll go faster.”
It’s that way in his off-track life, too.
He is 73 now, and if there is another former athlete who is anywhere near his age and going at anywhere near his pace, I want to meet him.
When I called him on Wednesday, I fully expected to learn from his secretary, Amy Hollowbush, that he was off somewhere shooting a commercial or making an appearance or checking on his winery.
Almost. “He’s on his way out of town, but he can speak to you right now if you can do it,” Amy said when she returned my phone call.
With Mario, when you can get him, you’d better take him. And I had a multi-faceted agenda this time, so I grabbed it.
What Andretti thought about Ron Howard’s newest movie, “Rush”, and news of his latest honor – induction into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame – appear on the pages of Thursday’s Morning Call.
The space constraints of a shrinking daily paper often means a writer has lots of stuff left in the notebook. The website has made it possible to get everything on the record.
So, here it is.
ME: Are you a traditionalist?
MARIO: (after pausing to wonder to himself where I might be going with this) Yeah.
ME: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is adding an IndyCar Series road race in 2014 – in the month of May.
MARIO: Well, I have some mixed emotions about that. At the same time, I hope it’s successful. It’s on the schedule now, and I’ve always thought, the more races, the better. Actually, I hope they extend the season, not what is contemplated. The Indy-car season from beginning of my career, always went from March to November. Now they contemplate ending the season earlier, in September. I have more of a heartburn with that. We are competing with football, NASCAR and Formula One. All go deep into November. There’s no plausible reason, I don’t care what they tell me, for the IndyCar season to end early, because to me it’s out of sight, out of mind, for everyone – drivers, sponsors, teams. That’s the part I have a tendency to push for.
(NOTE: IMS President Doug Boles, pictured above, at the press conference announcing the race: I would like to introduce to you a man who's brought a complete new kind of thinking at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Hulman & Co. CEO) Mark Miles will admit his racing experience was a few times here at the Indianapolis 500. He hadn't seen a road race or a street race until he joined our company. He's allowed us to think differently. Moreover, he's encouraged us to think differently, take on challenges, and as a person who's come to the Indianapolis 500 every year since 1977, when we first started talking about racing on the road course here in May, it struck me as a difficult conversation. But as I began to get away from the emotional side, the traditionalist side, and you start looking at the opportunity we have to make the Indianapolis 500 better, this is a great way to do it …”
(“As people talk about history, they talk about this being an oval, the '500,' and we've got the Brickyard, and I think today being able to bring a road race in and have a Speed Week is almost the greatest thing I've heard. It'll help our schedule and the interest. We'll be able to bring more people out here that haven't been here before maybe to see the cars compete. One weekend on the road course, the next weekend qualifying, and obviously the '500,' because to me it's The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, and there's no question about it. To me every single driver wants to race at Indianapolis, and I can tell you, we had a chance to win the first Nationwide race, and I hope we have a chance to win the first road race. I'll just give you guys a head's up. I'm looking forward to it.” – Roger Penske)
ME: Speaking of the schedule, how about the fact that IndyCar is losing its race in Baltimore?
MARIO: To me, that’s not a positive in any way. They knew the date needed to be changed (for 2014) because Navy had preplanned activities around that weekend. There was no room to put a race earlier than Labor Day and for some reason, IndyCar would not give them a date after Labor Day. I think you could race until the middle of October in Baltimore. I’m adamant about making the schedule longer.
(NOTE: Here’s the statement from IndyCar: "After a successful visit to Baltimore, which included record attendance, we are disappointed that our schedules will not align to host an event in 2014," said Mark Miles, chief executive officer, Hulman & Co., the parent company of INDYCAR. "This was simply a matter of trying to find the best date that worked for all parties, since Labor Day weekend was not an option in 2014. We are thankful to the city of Baltimore, Race On and Andretti Sports Marketing for their support and enthusiasm for the event over the years.")
ME: IndyCar is losing its Izod sponsorship after this season; do you see that as a problem?
MARIO: It’s another opportunity to bring somebody on board. It’s unfortunate to some degree, but they were there for six years and usually that’s a good stint for any sponsor. I don’t know if anything is 100 percent to replace them yet, but I hope so. The series needs a presenting sponsor or title sponsor; from the standpoint of negotiations, you might be in a better position. It’s a negative, but every negative has a positive around the corner.
(NOTE: From an IndyCar release: "We are proud of our partnership with IZOD over the past six years and we're grateful to PVH Corp., owner of the IZOD brand, for its support, creativity and vision," said Mark Miles, chief executive officer of Hulman& Co., the parent company of INDYCAR. "But circumstances change and now we're seeking new partnerships with brands looking to align with the fastest, most versatile form of racing. We are combining and strengthening our commercial functions at INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which will allow us to more aggressively pursue new opportunities for our sport.")
ME: (Veteran Indy-car chief mechanic) George Bignotti died last week; any comment?
MARIO: “It’s sad, but at the same time, the man lived a long life, 97. He was blessed, and his family and friends were blessed to have him that long. His legacy is unprecedented as far as a chief mechanic of the eras. When he was at the top of his game there was no equal to him. He was not my mechanic, but he was with the team and the overall chief when I drove for Parnelli (Jones, in the early 1970s). And I ran a Lola in a Can-Am race John Mecom and he was the chief on that, so I did have some connections with him.
(NOTE: Here’s a statement from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway): "We're saddened to learn of the passing of George Bignotti. George is a true legend. He set a standard for mechanical excellence and preparation at the Indianapolis 500 that has yet to be matched and may never be reached. George's love and loyalty toward the '500' never waned throughout his wonderful, long life, and he had countless friends and admirers in Gasoline Alley and the IndyCar community. Everyone at IMS extends their thoughts, prayers and sympathy to the Bignotti family." – IMS president Doug Boles.
ME: You’re going to be a grandfather again. How about that? (NOTE: Mario’s son Michael tweeted last week that he and his wife Jodi are expecting twins)
MARIO: Well, that’s a blessing. I know Jodi wanted to have a child of her own with Michael. She got it. We’re all happy. When he announced it to us, they were over the moon. My wife (DeeAnn) lives for the grandchildren. Happy times.
MARIO: Of course, we have twins in my family (Mario and brother Aldo), but Jodi also has twins in her family, so I guess for some reason, something connected.
ME: Twin boys and you start the whole Andretti thing all over again.
ME: You’re going to have to stick around a long time driving those two-seaters, pal.
MARIO: There you go.
ME: Man, you’re unbelievable with the pace you go at.
MARIO: You should see my schedule between now and the middle of December. It actually gives me a headache. It is what it is. There’s stuff we have to turn down.
ME: I guess it’s nice to still be wanted,
MARIO: It is. Some of it we can choose; some we can’t because of contractual obligations. Overall, it’s some that, we could not do it, but I’m allowed to complain. If didn’t have so much on my plate I would probably complain about that, too.
ME: Well, have a safe trip wherever you’re headed.
MARIO: Going to Phoenix.
ME: I didn’t know if you might be going to Houston (for this week’s IndyCar Series doubleheader).
MARIO: No, I can’t; I have other commitments with Firestone.
ME: So, you won’t get to see A.J. (Foyt) down there. (NOTE: Foyt, who lives in Houston, is grand marshal for the event)
MARIO: No, but I just talked to him the other day. We had a really nice conversation about some of the things you and I talked about just now. We were totally on the same page, which is great.
Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt on the same page. It doesn’t get any better than that. MCall.com