Andretti, (Gabriele) Mario
ANDRETTI, (Gabriele) Mario
(b. 28 February 1940 in Montona, Italy), auto racing champion who was winner of the Daytona 500 in 1967, the Indianapolis 500 in 1969, and the Grand Prix driving championship in 1978; was Champ Car National Champion in 1965, 1966, 1969, and 1984 and Phoenix 200 Champ Car Champion in 1993; and became a successful business executive.
Andretti was born in Italy near the Trieste area, to Louis and Rina Andretti. He has a twin brother, Aldo, and an older sister. As part of World War II reparations, Trieste was given to Yugoslavia, forcing the Andrettis to leave in 1948. They spent seven years in a camp for displaced persons in the central Italian province of Lucca. Andretti's father worked building toys. To earn additional money for the family, young Andretti began parking cars at age thirteen. His job allowed him to drive all sorts of vehicles, and, like his twin, he developed a love for fast cars and for racing. His father knew about the twins' passion. The boys' reckless driving habits led him to forbid them from racing or even driving cars. But Andretti was an admirer of the Italian racecar driver Alberto Ascari (whom he had first seen racing at Monza, Italy), and the brothers secretly became racecar drivers, racing formula junior racing cars from 1953 until 1955. In 1954 Andretti watched Ascari race the Mille Migla, a difficult 1,000-mile course in Italy that made a circuit from Brescia to Rome and back.
The Andretti family immigrated to the United States on 16 June 1955, and settled in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Because of his poor English skills, the teenaged Andretti was enrolled in the seventh grade later that year. He was much older than most of classmates, and he soon grew bored with his studies and left school. He later finished high school through a correspondence course and received a high school equivalency diploma. In 1959, at age nineteen, Andretti became a naturalized citizen and began his U.S. racing career.
Both Andretti brothers secretly continued to pursue their passion for racing in the United States. They built their version of a Hudson Hornet and began competing on the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing circuit. Both had won two races each when Aldo Andretti crashed in the fifth race, fracturing his skull. When their father found out, he expressed his disapproval by not speaking to them. Despite his father's disapproval, Aldo continued racing for another ten years until a second accident forced him to retire. Rather than fight with his father or give up what he loved, Mario moved out of the house.
In 1960 and 1961 Andretti won twenty-one of the forty-six stock car races in which he participated. In November 1961 he married Dee Ann Hock, his English tutor, and entered the racing business with Hock's father, who helped sponsor him. The couple has three children: Michael, Jeff, and Barbie. Both Michael and Jeff have pursued careers in racing, at times even competing against their father.
On 3 March 1962, at age twenty-two, racing 1/4 midget racecars, Andretti won his first major victory. Later that year he began racing Offy midget cars for the Mataba brothers. On Labor Day 1963 Andretti won three midget car races, one at Flemington, New Jersey, and the other two at Hatfield, Pennsylvania. The next year he participated in his first United States Auto Club (USAC) race and he formed an association with car manager Clint Braumer and pit manager Jim McGee. In 1965 he signed with Dean Van Lines, his first racing contract in the USAC. That year he was chosen as Rookie of the Year, placed third in his first Indianapolis 500 race, and won the USAC Championship. In 1966 he won eight of fifteen Champ Car races and another USAC Championship. Andretti also won the Daytona 500 in 1967 and the USAC championship races for 1969, 1984, and 1987. Throughout the 1960s he participated in all versions of car racing—midget, Formula One, sprint, dirt track, and drag racing. In 1968, driving a Ford Mustang, he won his first and only match race and in 1969, on his fifth try, he won the Indianapolis 500. Andretti continued his winning streak through the 1970s and into the 1980s, winning races at Portland and Pocono in 1986 and the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1987 (the third of three such victories between 1983 and 1987), and the Livingwell-Provimi 200 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. He was named Driver of the Year (1967, 1978, and 1984); Driver of the Quarter-Century (1992); and Driver of the Century (1999–2000).
In addition to his many wins and honors, Andretti enjoys racing with his sons. In 1989 he and his son Michael raced as a team in the Champ Car race for that year. On 3 June 1990 Andretti, his sons, and his nephew John competed in the Champ Car race held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The following year, the four competed at Indianapolis.
Andretti has had his share of disappointment, as well. In 1981 he narrowly lost to Bobby Unser in a disputed and controversial finish to that year's Indianapolis 500. The dispute centered around Unser passing cars during a yellow caution flag. He was penalized a lap for his illegal move, making Andretti the winner. Unser and Roger Penske, the car's owner, appealed the decision. After four months, the USAC overturned the ruling, fined Unser $40,000 for his illegal move, and declared him the winner. In 1985 Andretti suffered a broken collarbone in a wreck during the Michigan 500, and in 1987 he crashed shortly after the start of the Pocono 500, but was not hurt.
Still, by 1987 Andretti had won forty-nine races, earning $5.7 million in prize money. Until 1989 he held the record for winning both a Formula One World Championship and an Indianapolis Car National Title. His record as of mid-2001 stood at more than 100 major wins, fifty-two Indianapolis career victories, four national championships, the distinction of earning more pole positions (sixty-seven) than anyone else in auto racing, and earning $12.5 million in prize money.
In late 1993 Andretti announced that 1994 would be his last year to participate in the Champ Car races. Although he has bowed out of this competition, he has not retired from racing entirely. He continues to compete in the Le Mans endurance race. In 1995 he placed second. When he is not racing, Andretti is occupied with his business interests, having invested the winnings from his many races in a variety of lucrative enterprises. As of July 2001 Andretti's corporation, Andretti International, owned a winery, a gasoline distributorship (Andretti Petroleum), a Toyota dealership, and Andretti Hanna Carwashes. The company also produced video games and car care products. The man who says that if he were not a driver he would be a fighter pilot is thought by many to deserve the title Driver of the Century.
Andretti is the author of an autobiography, What ' s It Like Out There? (1970). Biographies include Alan Johnson, Driving in Competition (1972), Hal Higdon, Finding the Groove (1973), and Gordon Kirby, Mario Andretti: A Driving Passion (2001). For additional biographical material, see Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Outdoor Sports (1988). Relevant articles are in Sports Illustrated: "Bob Ottum, A Reckless Dash to Disaster" (13 June 1966), "Gentlemen, Junk Your Engines" (12 June 1967), and Kim Chapin, "La Dolce Indy" (7 June 1971). See also "Auto Racing: What Is This Danger?" Time (21 Apr. 1966), and "Andretti: Vroom at the Top," Newsweek (29 May 1967). Useful websites include the Motorsports Hall of Fame at <http://www.mshf.com/hof/>, and the Andretti family site at <http://www.andretti.com>.
Brian B. Carpenter