“If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” -Mario Andretti
Andretti’s love of racing began at the age of 14, when he witnessed racer Alberto Ascari compete in Italy’s Mille Miglia. He grew up to eclipse his hero as one of the best-loved figures in motor sports.
From his birth in the farm country of Montono, Italy, three months before Mussolini joined forces with Hitler, to his career as one of the best-known figures in motor sports, it’s safe to say that Mario Andretti has hardly lived through a dull moment.
The racing bug bit Andretti in 1954, while he and his family were living in an Italian refugee camp where they had fled after their homestead became part of post-war Communist Yugoslavia. Mario attended his first race: the famous Mille Miglia, the tortuous thousand-mile course that snaked from Brescia in north central Italy down to Rome and then back to Brescia. The great Alberto Ascari was competing in that race, and it made a deep impression on young Andretti.
The next year, the family relocated to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with $125 and no English skills. Mario and his twin brother, Aldo, went to work for an uncle at his garage and soon found themselves with a souped-up 1948 Hudson Hornet Sportsman stock car. Both brothers raced, but Mario went on to win 20 races in his first two seasons.
It was the start of an impressive racing career that would span three decades, and include over 100 major wins in virtually every racing venue: midgets, Indy cars, Formula One, Sprint Cars, sports cars, dirt track cars, and even drag racing (in 1968, he drove a Ford Mustang to a match race win.)
By the mid-70s, Andretti had truly eclipsed the great Ascari who had first inspired him. He became a household word in 1969 after winning the Indianapolis 500 (156.867 mph) and won the National Racing Title during the same season–this after having already won the Daytona 500.
Though he would never again win the Indy 500, during the peak of his career during the mid-‘70s Andretti found himself commuting by Concorde to races all over the globe. His career includes wins at the Toronto 500, four national championships, and a victory at the 1978 World Championship. Between 1964-1994, he made a record 407 starts in Indy car racing, and earned a record 66 pole positions.
Andretti’s two sons, Michael and Jeff, have gone on to create impressive racing careers for themselves as well. However, their father has been anything but idle since retiring from racing in the mid-‘90s. In 1993, the year prior to his exit from racing, Andretti set a world closed-course speed record of 234.275 mph at Michigan International Speedway.
He was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1981.