Born 28 February #1940
From Montona, Italy
Career highlights #F1-World-Champion-1978
; winner of ’1967 Daytona 500, 1969 Indy 500 and 1972 Daytona 24 Hours
Italian-born Mario Andretti enjoyed a competition career that encompassed everything from stock cars to F1, and remains the most successful American driver of all time… #1978-Formula-1
This month, we have an exemplary tale of dedication and determination that came out of fearsome adversity to produce one of the world’s most accomplished drivers. Mario Andretti and his twin brother Aldo were born in 1940 in Montona, Istria – the peninsula that juts into the Adriatic south of Trieste (then part of Italy).
Growing up in a country at war, their home was absorbed into communist Yugoslavia, meaning that they lived in refugee camps in Tuscany for seven years with continual concern over where the next meal might come from. It gave the boys’ parents every excuse to emigrate. The USA proved to be the family’s saviour, and the trans-Atlantic crossing was undertaken in 1955, but a propitious event took place the year before.
A garagiste in Lucca, where the brothers learnt to drive and helped out with parking duties, took them to the 1954 Italian GP at Monza. Ascari’s noble efforts chasing eventual victor Fangio really got to Mario and Aldo, and they came away determined to somehow become racers. Once in the US, the family settled in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and the twins wasted no time trying to get themselves on track. Meanwhile, their father was also being successful and proudly showed up one day in his brand-new #1957-Chevy #Bel-Air
. About as American as a car could get.
The acquisition of a junked Hudson Hornet was an excuse to prepare it for racing, while a stroke of genius was the purchase of copious set-up notes from a team that had successfully run a Hornet stock car. Fiddling their licences, the brothers started winning at the local Nazareth speedway and elsewhere. What they learnt early on is that preparation and having a car fine-tuned to the conditions of each track made up for lacking the mere grunt from a hot motor.
Aldo had a big one at the end of 1959, totalling the Hudson and almost himself. Maybe Mario was deterred, maybe not, but he soldiered on, picking up rides in stock cars and Midget racing on indoor cinder tracks. Tough stuff and I doubt that anyone took prisoners in either formula.
What Mario displayed was an innate ability to wring the most out of anything he drove. Mixt hat with his determination not to come second and you have a man who rose up the ladder, getting his first seat in a #USAC
sprint car in 1963. Up against the best of the best, he won his first Championship race in ’ #1964
. When the successful Dean Van Lines team’s driver ran into the back of his Sprint car, Mario wound up taking his rival’s place in the équipe. It brought a decent salary with it, so he gave up his job and became professional. There was to be no stopping him. He was ‘rookie of the year’ at the Indy 500 in ’1965 and Champion by the end of the season.
With a voracious appetite for racing, he drove for #NART
in sports-car events, kept up his Midget outings and put in Can-Am and #NASCAR
appearances, including victory in the ’ #1967-Daytona-500
. He famously won the 1969 Indy 500 in a back-up car after his #Lotus
was demolished in practice.
Mario’s schedule was incredible, racing in GPs for Lotus (he was World Champion in ’1978) as well as Champ car outings in the US every other weekend. If there was ever a gap, he filled it with whatever he could find.
His only drive for Scuderia Ferrari was at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in ’1982. As qualifying finished, he snatched pole in the turbo 126C2 (which he’d never raced before), sending the tifosi mad. A good day’s work for a 42 year old. If he had a dream when he went to Monza in ’1955, he more than fulfilled it. He was still winning in his 50s and remains the most successful American racer of all time. Just as important, he’s an object lesson in pursuing ambition.
Andretti heads for victory in the ’1969 Indy 500 in the Brawner-Hawk – his 4WD Lotus 64 was destroyed in practice after a hub failed.