Andretti: Vroom at the Top
29, 1967 Long before dawn on Memorial Day,
the crowded cars will begin to converge on Central Indiana. By 5 a.m., when the gates swing open at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they will be stacked up, six abreast and bumper to bumper, all along Sixteenth Street and Georgetown Road. The traffic will snake toward Indy from filled motels as far away as Terre Haute, 75 miles to the west, and Richmond, 65 miles east.
By race time, 11 a.m., an estimated 300,000 vicarious thrill-seekers will pack the 566-acre Speedway grounds. What draws them is a carnival, a
corrida, a big-business spectacle-where seats run from $5 to $35, where life, limb and the big-buck investment of the auto industry are risked amid fluttering balloons and ice-cream sticks. The sights and sounds are dear to every racing buff. First comes the traditional
call: "Gentlemen, start your engines." Then, under the midday sky the acrid exhaust smells, the sour tang of rubber and the savage yowling of accelerating horsepower. Out there on the track, writes auto expert Ken Purdy, it is "the hairline limit between the quick and the dead."
What, the spectators will see is, indeed, quick-if not necessarily deadly. The 500-mile auto race lasts about three hours and fifteen minutes-less than half the time it took to run the first 500-miler at Indy 56 years ago. Ray Harroun won the 1911 race in a Marmon that averaged 74.6 mph. This year's fastest driver in the trials vroomed around the 2.5-mile banked track at a breath-stopping, breakneck speed of 168.98.
Top, in Victory Circle after
winning the 1967 Daytona 500 in his #11 Ford Fairlane.
Bottom, teammate Freddie Lorenzon can't catch Andretti as
they head for the finish
Speed is the name of the game. And the name of the fastest driver is Mario Andretti. Already this year the Italian born Andretti, 27, has won the top U.S. stock-car race at Daytona, Fla., in a souped-up gold Fairlane; the twelve-hour Grand Prix of Sebring, Fla., in a big, yellow Mark IV, and the pole position in auto racing's richest, most exciting event, next week's Indy 500.
"I admire versatility more than any single skill in racing," says Andretti. I always wanted to be an all-round driver, a man who can handle any kind of equipment on any surface." Whether in his open-cockpit Indy Ford Hawk or the tank like Ford Mark IV that will hit 220 mph in next month's 24-hour endurance race at Le Mans, France, Andretti is a master of versatility who confounds the experts. At 5 feet 5.5 inches and 135 pounds, be was supposed to be too little to handle the heavy equipment on Daytona's 31-degree banks. Commented Chrysler racing director Ronnie Householder: "It takes a big, strong man to handle these stock cars on this track. The strain is too heavy."
Prize: Not for Andretti. With built-up pedals and his seat boosted by aluminum blocks ("His chair is just like a baby's," admitted the car builder), he coolly muscled his auto through the pack and picked up Daytona's first prize: $43,500.
Ford's racing director, graying Jacque Passino, crowed: "He's unbelievable. He drove like there was no tomorrow. Sometimes the busy Andretti has to drive that way. Twelve hours after finishing his stint this April in the sweltering cockpit of the winning two-man car at Sebring, Andretti turned up at the starting line the Atlanta 500-a stock-car race. And he was running first there when
a car ahead of him suddenly blew its engine spewing parts all over the track. Andretti whammed one, blew a tire and skidded into the wall.
Determination: Crashes are rare for the sure-handed' little car jockey from: Nazareth, Pa. "Mario never makes a mistake," says 46-year-old Rodger Ward, two-time Indy 500 @ winner who
retired ( after last year's race). "He has a feel for a race car
- sensitive nerves in the seat of his pants. He can 'feel' the car through a situation. His determination and depth perception are a little greater. He's got a little edge on all of them right now, and because his'
car and crew are good, he's got all that confidence in addition to everything else."
A rival owner, Californian J.C.
Agajanian, observes, "Notice the way he walks. Even though his legs are short he's always a step ahead of the other guy." Andretti is ahead of the other guys in earning power, too. Last year he made more than $300,000.
Racing fans love Andretti because he looks like an altar boy and drives like a demon. Accessory manufacturers are hungry for his endorsements (minimum fee: $2,000) that his white-and-blue Indy car carries. 28 decals on each side. Samples: Autolite Sparkplugs, Bell Helmets, Firestone Tires, Fram Filters, Monroe Shock Absorbers, Raybestos Brake Linings. Andretti's manager, 35-year-old Chuck Barnes, gets a 20 per cent share of each but says be is forced to turn down deals these days because the speedy little driver is nearing his limit - "We got to avoid the situation where a car buff leafing through one of these magazines will find Mario
endorsing a different product on every other page.
Golden Age: It takes no car buff to know that motor racing is in a golden age. Big companies like Ford and Chrysler vest millions each year on their custom crafted cars and crack drivers. Europe automakers can't match Detroit's cash. But their Formula I Grand Prix racers - lower-powered versions of the Indy cars-and their two-seat grand touring models like the Porsche, Lotus and Ferrari can match the best the U.S. has to offer. So can their drivers.
To be sure, there's a difference in style of racing. European road courses are twisting, slower and more treacherous than the high-speed oval American tracks. The U.S. in fact, has increasingly moved toward the road course in the
decade, but only one of the the Grand Prix races that decide the so called world driving championship is in the U.S., at Watkins Glen, N.Y. But whatever the styles, the appeal is same: the hypnotic spell of sheer speed, the testing of man's mechanical ingenuity, the whiff of death in the air, the sensuous beauty of thoroughbred automobiles. Some 400,000 fans mob a big race like Le Mans. In the U.S., auto tracks last year drew an estimated 39.3 million spectators.
Amid this boom, other drivers besides Mario have achieved fame and fortune. Top men behind the wheel include:
Anthony Joseph (A.J.) Foyt, 32, of Houston, Texas who has won the Indianapolis 500 twice and the U.SAC Automobile Club driving championship four times. A fearless freewheeler, Foyt has won races in everything except Grand Prix cars-which he says he'd like to try some day, even though the slimmer purses would cost him money, because he likes to see Americans show up the European "sporty car" set. On the first day of qualifying two weekends ago at Indy, Foyt took two warn-up laps in his self-built orange-red Coyote, then coasted into the pits, apparently helpless. He popped out of the cockpit, sprinted 300 yards to his garage in Gasoline Alley and deftly removed a distributor rotor arm from an alternate car. Then be raced back to the track, inserted the part, and roared off in pursuit of Andretti's new record. Foyt came within 2.8 mph and will probably start next week's 500 in the second of eleven rows.
Rufus Parnell (Parnelli) Jones, 33, of Torrance, Calif., who won the Indy 500 four years ago and placed second in 1965. He used to race more than 60 times a year but has cut his schedule this year to about fifteen. Like Foyt and Andretti, Jones has driven everything except Formula 1 racers. Unlike them, he has no intention of trying anything new. "I don't have any sensation of speed any more," he admits. "I just don't want to run as much as I used to." Nonetheless, be is driving this year's unique Indy racer: a jet-turbine car owned by longtime Speedway entrant Andy Granatelli. Technically capable of a
phenomenal 800HP, the jet-turbine car is eerily silent and needs oversize disk brakes and an air flap on the car's rear to slow it down.
Jimmy Clark, 31, of Duns, Scotland, who is the only driver to win both the world championship in Grand Prix (1963, 1965) and the Indy 500 (1965). Clark prefers road racing to the oval track. Quiet and introspective, he is the antithesis of A.J. Foyt-but every bit as sharp behind the wheel. His car builder, Colin Chapman, apologized to Clark last week because his Indy car this year doesn't look fast or reliable enough to out run, the top opposition.
Dan Gurney, 36, of Costa Mesa, Calif., who qualified for the last five 500s but finished only once-in seventh place. In his thirteen years at the racing wheel, the affable, articulate Gurney has won in every kind of car-including a Formula 1. Eagle that be built himself and whizzed to victory in the Auto Race of Champions at Brands Hatch, Four years in a row be won the Riverside, Calif., 500-mile stock car race, and finally was beaten there this year by Parnelli Jones.
None of these drivers, however, has achieved quite the charisma in the US as Mario Andretti.
"Auto racing is exploding and he the champ at the right time", says his manager, Chuck Barnes. "He's like Arnold Palmer was when golf took off. He has the magic name and the magic looks that attract people.
Know-How: What attracted Andretti's present sponsor, California-based moving-van magnate Al Dean, was the handsome Italian immigrant's knowledge of engines. Dean's longtime car designer
and pit boss, Clint Brawner, scouted the dirt-track circuit in 1964, looking for a successor to his injured driver Chuck Hulse.
Andretti impressed the crowds as he slammed through the tight turns, showering dirt over the walls, but Brawner was looking for more than that. "Anyone can be brave," says the 50-year-old technical expert from Phoenix. "I hired Mario because of his knowledge of cars and his ability to work with the crew.
With Clint Brawner, Al Dean
and Jim McGee after winning the pole at Indy in 1966.
They did it again in 1967.
In 1965, his first full year on the USAC circuit, Andretti wheeled the Dean car to the championship. At Indy, be finished third, was chosen Rookie of the Year and earned $47,350 in prize money. Last year, Andretti broke every Indianapolis speed record in qualifying, got the pole position-and the $10,000 that goes with it-but broke down on the 28th lap. A chaotic sixteen-car pile-up on the' first lap eliminated eleven of the 33 starters. Survivors were forced to run under the yellow caution light such a long time at reduced speeds that Andretti's finely tuned engine popped a valve.
Rebound: The combination of attrition and racing luck enabled steady, unflappable Englishman Graham Hill to nose out Clark and win the race. As for Andretti, he simply started winning again the next week at the next track. In fact, he so far outstripped the competition in Brawner's refurbished car that be led from start to finish in his next three races at, Milwaukee, Langhorne, Pa., and Atlanta. Despite his shutout at Indy, be clinched the USAC driving title again.
Naturally enough, the 5-foot-high Indianapolis trophy is the one Andretti wants most to win. The rewards are immense. Two years ago, winner Jimmy Clark clicked off the lap money so fast - $150 for each 150-mph trip around the track in first place, that his total take was a record $166,621. That was more than Clark made all year long on the Formula One circuit.
'The Brickyard': For U.S. drivers Indy has been the big one to win since. the days of Wilbur Shaw and Mauri Rose. But until Australian Jack
Brabham started the rear-engine revolution at Indy with a car of his own design six years ago, most foreign drivers scoffed at "The Brickyard". "All you do is steer left and stomp on it," they sneered. But Brabham showed that the Grand prix rear-engine design , which foreign drivers were used to handling, could be adopted to Indy conditions. As a result, Europeans started entering the 500 and, most significantly, there developed a driver elite that competes all over the world, in an increasingly wide range of cars.
These ace drivers are athletes, every bit as finely conditioned as the better publicized professional football and basketball stars. Auto racing is a fatiguing sport - and the penalties for small errors can be harsh indeed. In a tense 100-mile race at Milwaukee last year, Andretti gripped the steering wheel so hard that when be tried to wave to the fans on a victory lap afterward, be couldn't lift his right arm. He wears thin-soled driving shoes and gloves, but he always finishes a race with blistered feet-and after the Indy race two years ago he had grape size heat blisters on the backs of both hands. "With the radiator and oil heater right by your feet," he explains, "you get a blast of hot air coming at you for three and a half straight hours. The slowest it hits you is 145 mph. After a race at Indy, you're not much good that evening. You just drink all the water you can get."
Nerveless: When he drives regularly Andretti needs no extra conditioning exercises. But when be lays off more than a week, his muscles stiffen and he tires more rapidly. To rivals, Andretti appears nerveless. That is because be formed an image of himself watching his childhood idol, Italian driver Alberto Ascari. "You see pictures of Ascari and he's cool, not leaning forward on the wheel", says Andretti. It's as if he's sitting back and enjoying the ride. I like that. "That's the way I like to be."
It's the way he always wanted to be. Andretti's mother recalls that when Mario and his identical twin, Aldo, were little boys in Montana, Italy, they played with toy racers on the pillows in bed. When Yugoslavia took over the Istrian peninsula, Andretti's parents fled with the two boys and their older sister, Anna Marie. They settled in Lucca. Mario and Aldo learned auto mechanics in technical school. They used to travel 70 miles from Lucca to Florence where they watched Ascari and other great drivers zip past in the 1,000 mile "Mille Miglia". As soon as the Andretti boys were big enough to race, they tried it themselves.
In 1955, the family came to the USA. Mario's father disliked auto racing when his sons tried it in Europe - so they didn't tell him about the old Hudson Hornet they rebuilt and rammed around the dirt-track jalopy races in Nazareth, Pa. In 1959, Aldo crashed the car and suffered a concussion. By the time he was able to return to racing, Mario was far ahead of him. In 1961, Mario got into his first open-cockpit competition in sprint-car racing, a fast, hazardous phase of the sport that took him onto little tracks from Essex Junction, Vt. To New Bremen, Ohio. Most of the races were only 15-miles long. For Andretti, it was educational and frenetic. On Labor Day in 1963 he won three midget races at Flemington,
NJ in the afternoon, drove his Chevy 70 miles to Hatfield, PA, and won four more the same night. After Andretti started driving the front engine Offenhauser, for Brawner and Al Dean, they advised him to take his time learning the car and the new tracks. It was the kind of advice he needed: at - Trenton, N.J., Andretti was so eager to "get honkin'," as he calls it, and he zoomed past the pace car.
In 1965 Brawner scrapped the Offy four-banger and installed Mario in the cockpit of a new car - Brawners beefed up version of Brabham's chassis that startled everyone at Indy four years earlier. The rear-mounted engine came from Ford Motor Co. - for a price of $23,000. Only minor changes have been made in the cars since then, but there have been many of those. Andretti himself frequently alters the suspension.
Back in the 60's, it was not
uncommon for the drivers to help setup the car. Mario
was good at it..
His know-how makes him valuable to both Ford and Firestone. Says Ford's Passino: "He's a real pro. At Sebring be came up with the fact that the Mark IV was bottoming [i.e. the transmission was grazing the asphalt) though it was a relatively flat Surface. At Daytona he suggested some changes that corrected the Fairlane. At Kingman, Ariz., he told us the car would run faster without a certain spoiler around the sides and back. He was right," adds a Firestone executive. He's wonderful for testing because you tell him to run 165 and he'll go out and run exactly 165." (There is no speedometer in an Indianapolis 500 car; the only gauges on Andretti's Dean Van Lines Special measure water temperature, oil pressure and rpm.)
Flat Out: Some day Andretti would like to go Grand Prix racing, although it would cost him time and money. After all this experience on oval tracks, he points out, "when I get to Monza, Italy, and Spa, Belgium, I'll take the wide, seeping turns at 140 mph" On the fourth turn at Indy next Tuesday, Andretti expects to go almost flat-out - 155 mph. Each driver's groove, or line, is different. But at an average speed of 164, Andretti's line carries him from the inside of the 60-foot track to less than a foot from the wall as he drifts out at 148 on the first turn 142 on the next two. On the straightaway he expects to hit 198.
"There's less margin for error now than there used to be," says Andretti. "But that's the only thing
different between us and the drivers 25 year ago. We hit the wall harder and we slide farther-but they were running at the limit and we're doing the same."
'Timbuktu': Andretti concedes that competing in 60 races a year is arduous. He is building,. a $100,000 split-level home in Nazareth where be will park his two station wagons; a raspberry-red Cadillac, a silver-blue Thunderbird and two motorcycles. But he will spend fewer than 70 days a year there with his pretty wife, Dee Ann, and their two sons, Michael, 4, and Jeffrey, 3. "I can't help it. If I stay home one weekend, I get irritable," says Mario bluntly. "If there's a race in Timbuktu, I've got to be there."
All that driving also shortens the odds on Andretti's: staying in one piece. He has never bad a bad crash, but seven weeks ago in Phoenix, he spun out at 130 mph and slammed the wall. He cracked four ribs. "I don't have any feeling of accomplishment unless there's a risk to it," be says.
By that standard, a driver can accomplish a lot at Indy. Since Andretti arrived there early this month, there have been 26 spin-outs and crashes. In 50 runnings of the 500, only seven previous pole-sitters won the race, but thirteen' were killed either at Indianapolis or elsewhere. Two of last year's Indy starters died later in smack-ups. One of them, Billy Foster of Victoria, B.C., was Andretti's close friend. In fact, Mario was a pallbearer at Foster's funeral four months ago. He says, "It's the first time I cried in twelve or thirteen years."
Fear of Fire: Lorenzo Bandini of Italy was under contract to drive the 500 for the first time this year. But Bandini died early this month after being dragged from the fiery wreckage of his Formula I Ferrari at the Grand Prix of Monte Carlo. Fire remains the greatest fear of race drivers. Their so-called fireproof coveralls and bandanas will protect them no more than four minutes and it took exactly 4 minutes and 20 seconds for the fire fighters to drag Lorenzo Bandini away from the flames.
The grim reminders at Indianapolis this week are by no means restricted to drivers who are missing. Fire has scorched the outline of a pair of goggles on the face of both Jim Hurtubise and Mel Kenyon. Hurtubise, now 34, spent nine months in the hospital after crashing at Milwaukee in 1964. Told he would never be able to move his fingers again, he asked the doctors to form them so he could grip a sterring wheel, and returned to drive in the Indy 500 the next year. Kenyon, now 34, was badly burned at Langhorne, PA , two years ago. Driving with a useless left hand, he finished fifth in the 500 last year.
Rodger Ward, who saw himself slowing up had the sense to stop last year. "It gets a little bit like shooting Craps
says Ward. "You keep winning but sooner or later you've got to throw a pair of sixes. Then on think it's a wonderful and it's nice to see the sun tomorrow that s when you quit.
The next top driver to retire will probably be Parnelli Jones. His investments have made him wealthy and he is tired of the speed game. "I guarantee you, promises Jones "that Mario will burn himself out. One day he'll say to himself, just like I did: 'What l am I doing?
Andretti s chief mechanic, Brawner, agrees. Four of his former drivers Bill Vukovich, Bob Sweikert Jimmy and Eddie Sachs-were killed in racing. "Mario can drive well for ten years," says Brawner, "but If he does it for more than three, his best chance is on the street with-us.
That's not where Mario wants to drive. Between now and the end of the year he will drive three kinds of cars in 50 different races, everything from the endurance classic at Le Mans to the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
"I want to keep driving for twenty years, be says firmly. "I was put on this earth to drive race cars.
(Editor's note: This article was written in 1967. Mario drove full time until 1994, some 24 years
later, and four more than he originally predicted).
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