The Andretti Legacy in American Motor Racing
The fun part about his first steps in motor racing was the fact that his parents did not know of his passion for motor racing. He and brother Aldo would use the money earned in their uncle's garage to prepare a Sportsman stock car and take turns in racing it. Unlike his brother though, Mario's career was not overshadowed by bad injuries and that helped him write one of the most important pages in North American racing history book.
Going through his entire racing career would take us approximately a best seller or two, so we'll just stick to the basics. First of all, he is only the second driver in the history of motor racing to become race winner in Formula One, Indy Car, World Sportscar Championship, NASCAR and the International Race of Champions.
He became the first American driver to take the world championship crown in both the Formula One and Indy Car/CART series, while also the only driver in the history of worldwide motor racing to take wins in the “Magical Three”: Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 (both through the 7th decade of the 1900s) and the Formula One World Championship (in 1978).
Although he didn't win a single time in the 24 Hours of Le Mans – despite his 9 appearances in the famous endurance race – the fact that he got behind the wheel of a Panoz LMP-1 Roadster-S at the age of 60, in 2000, is living proof that this man's blood runs only for racing.
Being forced to begin his racing career with the shadow of his father's success over his shoulders, Mario's son Michael decided to follow his own destiny in motor racing. And he didn't do very bad either, as he lived up to his father's name in the Indy Car/CART series in the late '80s, only to grab the title in 1991. After that, he decided to again follow the footsteps of his father and switched to Formula One racing, alongside McLaren F1 Team.
However, his move to F1 proved to be a total failure, as he argued the British team tried to sabotage him into letting go of his seat in favor for Finnish driver Mika Hakkinen (because of his high salary demands). Driving an underperforming car all season, all Michael could score was some 7 points overall, after which he decided to switch back to the CART championship and continue his domination in the North American open-wheel series. He never got to become champion though, as he also terminated his Indy career without a single Indy 500 win in his pocket.
Finally, the third generation Andretti is 22-year old Marco, currently racing in the Indy Car Series for his father's team Andretti Green Racing (owned and managed by Michael). In his very first year in the series (back in 2006), the AGR rookie became the youngest driver to win a major open-wheel racing event in the US, a title later “stolen” by Graham Rahal.
Andretti is currently seen as US' best chance of scoring another win in the Formula One Championship (since the 1978 Dutch Grand Prix), as he is flirting with the idea of debuting in the Great Circle alongside America's own team US Grand Prix Engineering.
Aldo's racing career lasted for only a decade, as it was mostly influenced by serious accidents. The last of those accidents produced intensive damage to his face (1969), which is when he decided to quit racing for good. Apart from doing a few seasons in the USAC (future CART) and IMCA, his CV doesn't include any impressive performances throughout the 1960s.
Another member of the Andretti clan that you may have heard about is John Andretti, currently racing in NASCAR's premier series Sprint Cup Series. At the beginning of his career, John raced in the premier single-seater series of the North American continent, the CART championship. After taking the family's now regular Rookie of the Year award (1988), John was part of the triad that made motorsport history during the 1991 race at the Milwaukee Mile. The chequered flag of the aforementioned race saw for the first time three members of the same family finishing an Indy Car race in the first 3 positions: Michael, John and Mario.
In the meantime, he decided to go back and break the “Andretti curse” in the famous Indianapolis 500 race (Indy Car), but failed to challenge for the win since 2007 onwards.
The last – and one could argue the least in terms of motor racing achievements – of the racing members of the Andretti family is Adam Andretti, the youngest son of Aldo Andretti and nephew of Mario. His racing career includes few if not a total lack of successes, the only notable moments being related to his endurance racing appearances at Daytona. Since 2004, his only connection to motorsport is the fact that he's racing instructor for several racing schools.
Now that we've covered all the members of the Andretti family – basically all the men in this family went on to become race drivers at a certain point in their lives – let's focus on the intriguing stuff.
The Andretti Curse refers to the fact that Mario Andretti's unexplainable bad luck to win the Indy 500 race for the second time in career – following his 1969 success – has transferred not only to all the members of his family, but also to his former team owners.
After Mario put his racing career to a halt in 1994, Michael, John, Jeff and Marco have all failed to win the famous race at the Brickyard. In addition, his former team owners Paul Newman and Carl Haas never got to feel the winning taste of the Indy 500 win, neither did their newest business partner Mike Lanigan. This is one of the famous North American Curses that is yet to be broken by the racers mentioned in this paragraph, or (probably) their descendants.
Mario Andretti alone attempted to win the Indy 500 race for no less than 29 times, winning only one of those races. The entire Andretti clan made 57 appearances in the Indy 500, Mario recording the only win for his family. The closest someone ever got to breaking the curse was Marco Andretti, during the 2006 Indy 500 (his first ever start in the famous race), when he was overtaken by Sam Hornish Jr. for the win in the very last lap of the race.
Facts of the Andretti family:
Mario Andretti was named Driver of the Century by the Associated Press and RACER magazine, in 2000.
Mario Andretti has been inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2001, the United States National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1996, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1990 and the Hoosier Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1970.
Mario Andretti received the Commendatore dell'Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana from the Italian government in 2006, for his immense merits in the world of motor racing and his tribute to his Italian roots.
First ever championship race in which 3 members of the same family finished on the overall podium – the 1991 Indy race at the Milwaukee Mile (Michael, John and Mario, in that order).
The first family in the world to have 4 members drive in the same series (Indy Car/CART), all taking Rookie of the Year honors throughout the years (Michael, Mario, Jeff, and John).