- Hall of Fame Inductees
In the history of automobile racing, one name stands alone. A name that has become synonymous with speed, and success, and style. It’s a name that has been uttered a million times by policemen at the side of the road: “So, who do you think you are, Mario Andretti?”
Andretti was born in 1940, in an Italian territory that is now Croatia. Following World War II, the territory was passed to Yugoslavia and in 1948, the Andretti family fled and spent the next seven years in a displaced persons camp. In 1955, the Andretti family, a father, a mother, a daughter and two sons emigrated to Nazareth, Pennsylvania. They could not speak English. Had the Andrettis settled anywhere else, the world may never have known of Mario, for virtually in the backyard of the family’s Nazareth home was a dirt oval track . . . and it triggered a passion for racing that has never left him. Along with his twin brother Aldo, Mario began racing in 1959 at the age of 19 on the dirt tracks of Pennsylvania.
An early accident prompted his brother Aldo to end his racing career, but Mario seemed to excel with each succeeding race. He joined the United States Auto Club in 1964 and won the Champ Car National Championship the very next year. Incredibly, by the time the decade of the ‘60s had ended, Mario Andretti had won three Champ Car titles: the Daytona 500, the Indianapolis 500 and the 12 Hours of Sebring.
Most drivers will spend a career seeking a win at Indianapolis or Daytona – and never attain those elusive titles. Yet, within just three years, Mario had captured both. In a very short period of time, Mario Andretti had not only become a household name, he had become a racing icon and a national phenomenon. In 1969, driving for Andy Granatelli and STP, Andretti won his only Indianapolis 500, coming off a crash during a practice run that could have taken his life. He walked away from the crash with only minor burns, entered a back-up car, and captured the checkered flag. The celebration in the Winner’s Circle resulted in one of the most famous photographs in all of sports – “the kiss heard round the world.”
Even on the international stage, the name Mario Andretti was becoming increasingly famous. Mario entered his first Formula One race in 1968, earning the pole position. He won his first Formula One race in 1971, driving for Ferrari. In 1976, with Formula One racing now his priority, he signed with the Lotus Team of England, accepting a long-standing invitation to do so from famed team owner, Colin Chapman. In 1978, Mario won races in Argentina, Belgium, Spain, France, Germany and Holland to become the Formula One World Champion.
In the history of motorsports, the world has seen many truly great drivers. But no driver can match Mario’s success in so many different racing venues: Midgets, Indy Cars, Stock Cars, Sports Cars, Formula One, on dirt tracks, straight tracks, oval tracks, road courses. His accomplishments in racing seem beyond the realm of possibility: Formula One world champion, Indy 500 winner, Daytona 500 winner, four times a Champ Car national champion, three times a winner at the 12 Hours of Sebring, National dirt track champion. Other drivers have won each of these races; Mario Andretti is the only driver to win ALL of them. In five decades of racing, Mario competed in 879 races and had 111 wins and 109 pole positions. In other words, on average, Mario Andretti would win one out of every eight attempts. In 1999, Mario was named Driver of the Century by the Associated Press and in 2000 was named Driver of the Century by Racer magazine. Now retired, Mario Andretti continues to serve as one of racing’s greatest ambassadors; a successful businessman who, most of all, treasures time spent with family. He loves his fans, and for half a century, fans have loved Mario Andretti.