Is Mario Andretti the greatest race car driver of all time? That’s the view here. But if he’s not, you can be sure that he’s filling the mirrors of the guys in front of him. Nobody has done it better for longer, in everything from front-engine roadsters to ground-effect Formula 1 cars, everywhere from the high banks of Daytona to the gravel of Pike’s Peak. Not only is he the only man to win an F1 championship, the Indy 500, and the Daytona 500, but he’s also the most quoted driver in motorsports history.
1940: Mario and his twin brother, Aldo, are born in the Italian village of Montona, near Trieste.
1948: After World War II, Trieste is annexed by Yugoslavia. To escape the Communists, the Andrettis move to a displacement camp in Lucca, Italy.
1954: Andretti attends his first race, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, and sees his hero, Alberto Ascari, lead forty-one laps before breaking. This foreshadows Andretti’s misfortunes at the American version of Monza — the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
June 1955: The Andrettis arrive in New York with $125 in their pockets and little English in their vocabulary. They settle in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.
1959: The Andretti boys take their newly finished stock car, a 1948 Hudson Hornet, to Nazareth Speedway.
Fall 1959: Aldo wrecks the Hudson and is comatose for more than a week. When he regains consciousness, his first words to Mario are: “I’m sure glad you were the one who had to go home and face the old man.”
1961: Mario competes in his first sprint-car event in a racer so old that it was made famous by a driver who’d been killed in 1948.
1961: Andretti marries his English tutor, Dee Ann Hoch. Eleven months later, their first child, Michael, is born. A second son and a daughter follow.
April 1964: Mario becomes an American citizen. He calls this “the proudest day of my life.” Several drivers still matter-of-factly refer to him as “Wop.”
June 1964: Andretti enters his first championship dirt race on the dreaded Langhorne track. “I probably slept fifteen minutes — thirty seconds at a time — the night before,” he says.
1965: Andretti lands a plum ride in the first-class Dean Van Lines car. He finishes third in the Indy 500, earning Rookie of the Year honors, and wins his first Indy-car race. At year’s end, he’s crowned USAC champion.
1966: Andretti begins his love/hate relationship with Indy. He qualifies on the pole, but his engine goes sour on the first lap and he’s quickly overwhelmed by the field.
1967: “All Dixie Mourns Andretti’s Win,” reads a headline in an Atlanta newspaper after Andretti takes the Daytona 500.
September 1967: Andretti drives a Can-Am car sponsored by Paul Newman at Bridgehampton. It’s a piece of junk. Andretti famously tells Newman, “Maybe you should drive the car and I’ll put my name on it.” Years later they would become close friends.
October 1968: In his first Formula 1 race and first time at Watkins Glen for the U.S. Grand Prix, Andretti sticks his Lotus 49 on the pole.
May 1969: Andretti wins the Indianapolis 500, and Andy Granatelli plants a big, sloppy kiss on his cheek. The tension of the month — low-lighted by a practice crash — had caused Andretti to lose sixteen pounds.
February 1970: Pissed off by a PA announcer screaming that Steve McQueen was about to win the 12 Hours of Sebring–when, in fact, co-driver Peter Revson was in the car and logging most of the laps — Andretti does a “balls out” final stint in his Ferrari 512S and takes the checkered flag by 23.8 seconds.
March 1971: Andretti fulfills a boyhood ambition and joins the Ferrari F1 team.
1972: Andretti joins Al Unser and Joe Leonard to form the Vel’s Parnelli Jones Super Team. But he has his biggest successes in a sports car, winning Sebring and Daytona with Jacky Ickx in a Ferrari 312PB.
1974: Where’s Mario? Pretty much everywhere. Besides DNF’ing at Indy — where the Andretti Curse is in full force — Andretti wins the USAC dirt-track title, scores three wins in Formula 5000, and gives the VPJ F1 car its debut at Mosport.
1976: A chance meeting with Colin Chapman in a hotel restaurant leads to Andretti joining Team Lotus.
1977: Andretti enjoys a strong season in the Lotus 78 ground-effects car. Enzo Ferrari offers him a contract for the next year. When Andretti explains that he already has a contract with Lotus, Ferrari blithely tells him, “That’s what lawyers are for.”
1978: Andretti rolls to a convincing world championship in the Lotus 79. But in a tragic replay of the circumstances that befell the only other American champ, Phil Hill, Andretti clinches the title at Monza, the same race in which his friend and teammate, Ronnie Peterson, is killed.
1981: Mario wins his second Indy 500! Well, for about five months. Bobby Unser took the checkered flag on race day but was penalized for passing under a yellow flag. A USAC appeals board later votes 2-1 to reinstate Unser as the winner.
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.