Mario Andretti is undoubtedly one of the best known and most decorated race car drivers of all time. Unrivaled on the track, Andretti has won the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the Formula One World Championship, and set a record at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Since arriving on the racing scene at the age of 15, Andretti has proved superior at nearly every level of competition.
Born in Montona, Italy immediately before World War II, Andretti grew up in a country under the Fascist rule. In 1948, three years after the end of the war, Andretti and his family fled the Fascist rule, seeking refuge in Tuscany, Italy. They lived for seven years in a refugee camp, sharing a house with several other families, their quarters separated only by blankets. During this time, Andretti’s parents worked to get visas for the United States.
Their visas were granted in 1955, and later that year the Andrettis boarded a ship to Pennsylvania, eventually settling in Nazareth with a mere $125. Mario was 15. Previously exposed to racing at the Italian Grand Prix, Andretti and his Brother had dreamed of being race car drivers. This dream was only enhanced when they discovered a race track near their new home in Pennsylvania. Impatient to prove their abilities, Andretti and his brother set out to build their own modified stock car, a 1948 Hudson Hornet. Andretti went on to win 20 races in that car during his first two seasons.
After Andretti’s string of successes, his career began to flourish. Andretti won his first race at Indianapolis in 1965, the Hoosier Grand Prix, and finished third in the Indianapolis 500 that same year. He became the youngest driver to win the Indy Car Championship in 1965 as well. At 25, Andretti was in a position to become one of the best race car drivers in the world.
In 1967, Andretti won the Daytona 500 stock car race and claimed his first three victories in the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race. Later that year, Andretti was named the Martini and Rossi Driver of the Year, voted upon by esteemed automotive and racing journalists. After numerous other victories, Andretti’s celebrated win in the Indianapolis 500 came in 1969. Leading 116 laps and setting 15 new records, Andretti proved his dominance on the track.
Expanding in the realm of motorsport, Andretti branched out to conquer endurance racing. Beginning with his second victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring and ending with a win in the International Race of Champions. Andretti also ventured out into the world of Formula One racing, with his debut resulting in qualifying his Lotus 49 on pole position for the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. The 1970s were filled with victory after victory for Andretti, culminating with him being named Driver of the Year in 1978.
The 1980s were less fulfilling for Andretti, whose cars were plagued with mechanical failure. After leaving Lotus and Alfa Romeo to compete with Ferrari at the Las Vegas Grand Prix, Andretti turned his focus back to Indy Car racing with the newly formed Newman/Has racing team. Teaming up with his son Michael to compete at the 24 Hours of Lemans in 1983, Andretti and his team achieved a third-place finish in a Kremer Porsche 956, the highest for a non-factory team. Back on the Indy Car scene, Andretti, age 44, won his fourth national championship and his third Driver of the Year Award.
Always making history, in 1989, Andretti took on his son Michael as a teammate, marking the first father-son team in Indy Car history. In 1992, Andretti became the oldest Indy Car pole winner and set an all-time record for most Indy Car starts. That same year, Andretti was also named Driver of the Quarter Century by a vote of past Drivers of the Year and a panel of 12 journalists. In 1994, Andretti took his final lap around the track at the Laguna Seca Raceway, marking the end of what is arguably one of the most astounding racing careers of all time.