Mario Andretti, Motorsport Legend

Petersen Publishing Archives Bob D'Olivo

September 1982: Andretti fills in for Ferrari in the Italian Grand Prix. He's greeted by a huge crowd at the airport in Milan. "You drive for Ferrari, and you're like the Pope."

1982: Andretti plays matchmaker and brings old enemies Paul Newman and Carl Haas together to form one dominant Indy-car team. He then scores Newman-Haas Racing's first win at Elkhart Lake.

1984: Andretti wins his fourth Indy-car title. Among the youngsters he schools is a rookie by the name of Michael Andretti.

1985: Mario is on track for another championship when a wheel falls off and he clobbers the wall at Michigan. He breaks his hip, collarbone, and four ribs and misses a race for the first time in his career.

1987: Andretti is in a class of his own at Indy, dominating practice, qualifying on the pole, and leading 170 of the first 177 laps. Then the Andretti Curse strikes, and his engine breaks.

1989: Michael Andretti joins Newman-Haas so he and his father can run a two-car team. During their four seasons together, Michael wins twenty races. Mario doesn't win any.

June 1991: In what's surely the most embarrassing moment in Andretti's career, he clouts a safety vehicle parked to pick up Dennis Vitolo's stricken car under yellow during the Detroit Grand Prix. About fifteen seconds later, Michael Andretti crashes into Vitolo's car. Ouch!

1992: The Andretti Curse strikes in triplicate at Indy: First, Mario breaks his toes in a crash. His younger son, Jeff, badly breaks his legs in another wreck. Michael's car fails while he's leading with twelve laps to go.

1993: Mario scores his last Indy-car win, at Phoenix. But the season goes to hell thanks to a feud with his histrionic new teammate, Nigel Mansell.

1995: Andretti finishes second at Le Mans by less than four minutes. Before he retires, he'll race at Le Mans during four different decades. But he never scores the win he needs to match the record held by A. J. Foyt.

1996: Andretti opens Andretti Winery in Napa Valley. His old rivals jokingly refer to it as the "Andretti Whinery." "The thing you have to understand about Mario," Paul Tracy once said, "is that on the racetrack, nothing is ever Mario's fault. Ever."

April 2003: Considering a return to Indy, Andretti hits debris in practice and executes a series of flips at 200 mph but is unhurt. He pulls out of the race. "I have to start using at least an ounce of wisdom," he says.

2007: Andretti hosts a secret meeting at his house with Tony George, Brian Barnhart, Paul Gentilozzi, and Kevin Kalkhoven to broker an end to the split between Champ Car and the IRL.

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When I lived in Denver in the 60s, a friend went to the Indy 500 the first year Andretti raced there. He reported,"there is this hot young driver who will be a champion -- if he lives that long". Mario did and he is!

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