Mario Gabriele Andretti
Prominent Istrians


 

ario Gabriele Andretti and his twin brother Aldo were born on February 28, 1940 in the ancient town of Montona (now Motovun) to Rina (b. Benevegnù) and Luigi Andretti (formerly Andretich). They also had an older sister named Anna Maria. racing car driver

born in Montona
 1940

Istria was annexed to Italy at the end of World War I, and the family surname was changed from Andretich to Andretti in 1928. When World War II ended, Istria was then awarded to Yugoslavia, at which point virtually the entire population of the town of Montona abandoned their ancestral homes and became refugees from communism, including the five members of Luigi's family.

From 1948 to 1955, the family lived in a displaced persons (refugee) camp in Lucca, Italy - a fate similar to that of several hundred thousand other Istrian refugees who were interned in refugee camps throughout Italy while awaiting either permanent residency or legal immigration to other countries.

It was during this period that the Andretti twins were introduced to race car driving. Andretti's first racing experience was in a new youth racing league called Formula Junior in Ancona, Italy when he was thirteen years old.In 1954, they witnessed the famous "Mille Miglia", a thousand-mile course from Brescia to Rome and back to Brescia, and it was the driving skill of the great Alberto Ascari who then inspired the 14-year old spectators' interest in car racing.

Montona, 2 February 1947.

Gigi Andretti, Rina Andretti, Giuseppina Belletti, Livia Germani, Pasqualina Sponza, Bruno Benvegnù, Piero Benvegnù, Pier Michele Benvegnù and sitting in front are the twins Mario and Aldo Andretti. (Mario's sister Anna Maria is not pictured.)

Rina Andretti
Born in Montona on June 9, 1913
Died in Nazareth, PA USA on December 29, 2003

Rina's parents were Constantina and Pietro Benevegnù. She grew up in a pretty house that had a trattoria and was located near the railroad station of Laco.

She married Luigi Andretti, known as Gigi to everyone, and only his death separated them after 50 years of marriage. She dedicated her life to their children Anna Maria, Mario and Aldo.

After years of waiting, the Andretti family was granted a visa to emigrate to the United States of America. They arrived on June 16, 1955 and settled in Nazareth in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. Andretti’s family struggled to stay afloat financially during their first few years in America. The Andretti twins started to work in an uncle's garage where, four years later in 1959,  Mario and Aldo finished building their own race car, a 1948 Hudson Hornet Sportsman, which they completed on April 25, 1959. They began racing on a dirt track virtually in their back yard. They entered it in a local race, and proceeded to win the first and nearly all of the races, with Mario and Aldo alternating as the driver.

Tragedy struck during the last race of this first season when Aldo wrecked violently and lost consciousness. It developed into a coma later that evening that lasted two week/ Although Aldo made a full recovery from his skull fracture, he was never the same on the racetrack. Mario’s passion for driving never wavered because of this incident. In fact, Mario was building a new race car soon after Aldo was released from the hospital.  A year later, Aldo returned to competition and raced for another 10 years. He retired in 1969 after another major accident which caused substantial facial injuries.

The next step for Andretti was the jump from local dirt track racing to sprint cars, where the money, recognition, and speed were all at heightened levels. Andretti struggled at the beginning of his sprint career, and failed to win a race throughout the course of his first season. In fact, over this span of 20 races, Andretti didn’t even finish the race in more than half of them. After this abysmal first year, Andretti decided to give up on sprint cars for a while.

In 1962 Andretti began trying his luck with midget car racing, and has his first midget car race on January 6, 1962. Three days after his 22nd birthday, on March 3, 1962, Mario won his first meaningful race at Teaneck, New Jersey, a 100-lap feature TX Midget race. On that day, Andretti actually won three separate races, and he was beginning to make his mark in the sport. In Andretti’s words from What’s It Like Out There, “Once you are over the hump, once you put a victory in your pocket, tension just drops away.” He went on to win three more times on Labor Day that year - one in Flemington, New Jersey and two at Hartfield, Pennsylvania. That year, he  finished in the top ten in 24 of the 33 races. However, midget car racing was still considered “minor league,” and Andretti yearned for more.

On September 21, 1963, Andretti stepped back into the world of sprint car racing, joining the United States Auto Club (USAC) which authorized America’s national racing championships of Indy cars, sprint cars, and others at the time. On April 19, 1964, Andretti began competing in USAC sprint car races with his first Indy Car championship series race at Trenton, New Jersey. He did not fare well, starting 16th and finishing 11th, eight laps behind the leader, capped by a dramatic victory in a 100-lap race at Salem, Indiana. These struggles continued as Andretti failed to finish any higher than 8th, besides a 3rd place finish where he still finished four laps behind the leader, throughout his entire first year of Indy car racing. He earned $526.90 in his professional debut. He was, however, only 24 and had gained valuable experience.

In 1965 he won his first Indy car race, the Hoosier Grand Prix. In the first race of the 1965 Indy Car championship series, Andretti led the race for 60 of the 150 laps, and ended up placing 6th. In four of the next five races he finished in the top-five, including a 3rd place finish at the Indianapolis 500 Speedway where he was honored as "Rookie of the Year". His first Indy car win at Indianapolis Raceway Park on July 25, 1965, and he went on to win the entire Indy Car championship that year, altogether 12 top-four finishes. Thus, he became the youngest driver (at age 25) to win that title. In 1966, he won eight Champ Car races, his first pole at the Indy 500 and a second straight national championship. 

In 1967 he won NASCAR's Daytona 500 stock car race averaging 149.926 mph in his Ford. In the Indy 500 of 1967 and 1968 he finished second, then regained the title in 1969, the year in which he also won the Indianapolis 500 Miles with a brawner Hawk owned by Andy Granatelli. Also in 1967, he claimed his first of three career victories in the "12 Hours of Sebring" endurance race, finishing as runner-up in the Champ Car national championship and was named "Driver of the Year" for the first time.

Newsweek magazine cover (1967)

STP Lotus - Ford 64 (1969)

He even tried drag racing in 1968. In a Ford Mustang, he earned eight more Champ Car victories en route to second place in the Champ Car point standings. Driving a Lotus, Mario realized his lifelong dream and qualified on the pole on his very first Formula One race at the 1968 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, but was forced out of the race with a clutch problem. In the  Lotus, he then took part in a number of other Grand Prix races in 1969 and 1970. 

Mario Andretti, winner of the Indy 500 in 1969

His celebrated win in the Indianapolis 500 came in 1969, where he led a total of 116 laps and established 15 of 20 new records set during the Indianapolis event. Mario scored a total of nine wins and five pole positions that season and went on to win his third national Champ Car title. He ended the decade with a total of 30 victories and 29 poles out of 111 Champ Car starts. 

One result of Andretti’s newfound success was an offer from the Indianapolis Star to have Andretti write a racing column in their newspaper. In his column, Andretti would give his perspective about racing, his fellow drivers, equipment, and cars. He later continued his writing career by authoring his first book, What’s it Like Out There?, in 1970.

The 1970s proved to be a decade of successful versatility. Mario began it with his second victory in the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1970. In 1971, he joined Ferrari and finished first in the South African Grand Prix driving a model 312B1 for the first time. He scored another victory a few days later in a non-title race on the new Ontario circuit. The following year he won four sports car races at the wheel of a Ferrari 312PB: with Jacky Ickx at the 6 Hours of Daytona, then the12 Hours of Sebring", the BAOC 1000 km at Brands Hatch and Watkins Glen 6 Hours.

He continued his attack on the open-wheel series, winning a total of seven Formula 5000 events in 1974 and 1975, while finishing second in points in both seasons. 

Andretti's last dirt car race on 7 September 1974. 

Teamed with Al Unser in the powerful Vel’s Parnelli Jones stable, Mario ended his stellar dirt track career at the Hoosier Hundred on the Indiana State Fairgrounds mile on September 7, 1974. He started the race and checkard third behind winner Jackie Howerton and Unser in the closest three-car Hoosier Hundred finish in history. With three wins in 1974, he took the USAC National Dirt Track Championship title. 

card from PANNINI series "Eurofootball 82"Andretti then returned full-time to the Grand Prix circuit. From 1975 to 1981, he won 12 races and earned 16 pole positions on the Grand Prix circuit. He won the Japanese Grand Prix, then in 1977 still with the Lotus, won the Western (at Long Beach) United States, Spanish, French and Italian (at Monza) Grand Prix.

In 1978, with the Lotus 79-Ford, he won in Argentina, Belgium, Spain, France, Germany and Holland, and became the second American to win the Formula One world championship, the highlight of his international career.

In 1982 he returned to Ferrari and took part in the two last Grand Prix races of his career, in Italy, where he obtained his eighteenth pole position and came in third. He returned to Indy car racing in 1982 and won his fourth championship in '84. He continued racing in Formula Indy and in 1991 finished seventh while his son Michael won the championship. That season the first time that four members of the same family ever raced together in the same series - Mario, his son Michael, his other son Jeff and his nephew John. In 1993 he took his last Indy car victory at Phoenix. 

Summarizing his driving achievements, Mario Andretti is CART's all-time leader in victories (36) and the active leader in pole positions (30). His racing career spanned three decades and includes over 100 major wins in different racing venue - midgets, Indy cars, Formula One, sprint cars, sports cars, dirt track cars and even drag racing. In Indy cars he possesses 51 career victories, 4 National Championships and more pole positions than anyone else. Until 1989, he was the only driver to win a Formula One World Championship and an Indy Car National Title. He remains the only person to ever win the Indy 500, Daytona 500 and the Formula One World Championship, and the only person to be named Driver of the Year in three decades: 1967, 1978 and 1984. For his long list of major championships, awards and honors, Mario is generally regarded as one of the greatest car driver of all time.

The Family Dynasty

Mario Andretti met his wife De Ann while in high school in Nazareth, Pennsylvania,which is her native town. She has been attributed to having taught Mario the English language. They were married on November 25, 1961 and today they still live in Nazareth, but now in a mansion overlooking the town, as also does their son, Michael (b. October 5, 1962). They have two other children: Jeff (b. April 14, 1964) and Barbie (b. July 13, 1969), and five grandchildren: Marco, Marissa, Lucca, Miranda, and Isabella.

Andretti’s accomplishments paved the way for a veritable family dynasty. He had opened doors for his son Michael, on the racetrack, among others. In 1991, when Mario finished seventh in the Indy car standings, Michael finished first. Mario also competed that season against his other son, Jeff, and a nephew, John (son of Aldo), making it the first time that four family members raced together in the same series.

Michael's racing career led to the establishment of the Michael Andretti foundation, a foundation that aids in the education, health, and welfare of America’s children and citizens. He is also CEO of Andretti Green Racing, a four-car team competing in the Indy Racing League IndyCar® Series. As a team owner, he has won two back-to-back IndyCar® championships and an Indy 500 win. In 2006, Michael Andretti stepped out of retirement to race at the Indianapolis 500 with his son, Marco Andretti (b. March 13, 1987).  He drove the #1 Jim Beam/Vonage Honda powered Dallara.

Jeff Andretti, Mario's younger son, has also enjoyed a racing career that includes Toyota Atlantics, Champ Cars, and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. John Andretti, Mario's nephew (son of his twin brother Aldo), has made his own mark in all forms of auto racing including USAC midgets, Indy Cars, NHRA Top Fuel dragsters and NASCAR. And finally, Marco Andretti, Michael's son, on August 27, 2006 won the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma racing, and the family's racing heart-beat goes on....

Mario with nephew John Andretti at the 2007 Indianapolis 500.
Mario Andretti and his son, car owner Michael Andretti, watch practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Friday, May 9, 2008. Associated Press.

Andretti has kept active after his retirement from full-time racing. He makes numerous speaking engagements before corporate audiences. He is a spokesman for long time sponsors Texaco/Havoline and Firestone. He is also occasionally a spokesman for the Champ Car World Series, although he frequently attends IRL races watching Marco compete. Mario is also the founder of the Andretti Racing School, located in Las Vegas, Nevada, and he test drives cars for Road & Track and Car and Driver magazines. In July 2006 Mario took part in the Bullrun race across America. The first pitstop was at the Pocono Raceway (in Andretti's state of Pennsylvania), with Gate #5 aptly named Andretti Road.

In addition to the race car traditions that have been handed down two generations, the family dynasty includes a number of business enterprises. In California, they have a chain of gasoline stations and a distributorship in the Bay Area. He is also vice chairman of the Andretti Winery in Napa Valley where, in 2003, Andretti released his first estates wines under the Montona label to commemorate the medieval village where he was born. In Pennsylvania, the family has the Andretti Toyota dealership in Moon Township (just outside of Pittsburgh) and Andretti Mitsubishi dealership in Coraopolis, the Hanna car washes in Lehigh Valley. They also sell car-care products, go-kart tracks, a clothing line called the Andretti Signature Line (Andretti apparel, books, and collectibles), video games and replica cars.

In October 11, 2004, Mario by the Italian-American community as their Grand Marshall at the New York City Columbus Day Parade.

Major championships and honors:  

  • 1967 Daytona 5001965, 1966, 1969 & 1984 - USAC national champion
  • 1965 - Indy 500 Rookie of the year
  • 1967 - Daytona 500 champion [right photo]
  • 1969 - Indy 500 champion
  • 1967, 1978 & 1984 - Driver of the year
  • 1992 - Driver of the quarter century

F1 victories:  

  • 1971 - South African Grand Prix
  • 1976 - Japanese Grand Prix 
  • 1977 - U.S. Grand Prix West 
  • 1977 - Spanish Grand Prix 
  • 1977 - French Grand Prix 
  • 1977 - Italian Grand Prix 
  • 1978 - Argentine Grand Prix 
  • 1978 - Belgian Grand Prix 
  • 1978 - Spanish Grand Prix 
  • 1978 - French Grand Prix 
  • 1978 - German Grand Prix 
  • 1978 - Dutch Grand Prix 

1978 - World Champion

Filmography:

  • 1983 - Formule Villeneuve - playing himself (aka Formula Villeneuve; Canada: English titles)
  • 1997 - Super Speedway - playing himself  (aka Super Speedway: The Ride)
  • 2002 - 1-hour documentary on Mario Andretti
  • 2003 - Life Between, The (aka Speed, Inc. (2000, original script title) - USA, in production; playing himself

Marboro 500 race - Paul Newman and Mario Andretti
Photo by Steve Granitz/SteveGranitz.com - Image from IMdb.com 

TV guest appearances:

  • Click to see full postcard1970 - "It Takes a Thief" (1968) - playing himself in episode: "Steal-Driving Man, The" (episode # 3.16) 1/19/1970
  • 1992 to 1999 - "Home Improvement" (1991) - playing himself in episodes:
    • 2.7: 11/4/1992 - "Roomie for Improvement" 
    • 6.10: 11/26/1996 - "Wood, the Bad and the Hungry, The"
    • 8.27: 5/25/1999 - "Long and Winding Road (Part 3), The"
  • 1996 - "Pretender, The" - playing himself in episode # 2.10: 1/31/1998, "Indy Show"
  • 1997 - "Electric Playground" in episode # 3.4

Autobiographical works:

  • What’s It Like Out There? (with Bob Collins) Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1970.
  • Mario Andretti, World Champion. (with Nigel Roebuck) London: Hamlyn, 1979.
  • More Than Champions. (with Dave Dravecky and Cathy Rigby) Nashville: Dimensions for Living, 1992.
  • Andretti. (with Paul Newman) San Francisco: Collins Publishers San Francisco, 1994.

Further reading:

  • Mario Andretti: A Driving Passion, Gordon Kirby. D. Bull Pub., 2001, ISBN 1893618129.
  • Mario Andretti Photo Album, Peter Nygaard. Iconografix, 1999, ISBN 1583880097.
  • Mario Andretti (Race Car Legends), G. S. Prentzas. Chelsea House Publishers, 1996, ISBN 0791031764.
  • Sports Hero, Mario Andretti, Marshall Burchard. Putnam, 1977. ISBN 0-399-20588-8.
  • Mario Andretti: The Man Who Can Win Any Kind of Race, Lyle K. Engel. Arco Publishing, 1970. ISBN 978-0668021937.
  • Mario Andretti: World Driving Champion, Lyle K. Engel. Arco Publishing, 1979. ISBN 0668047542.
  • Mario Andretti, Mike O'Leary. MotorBooks, 2002. ISBN 0760313997.
  • Andretti, Bill Libby. Grossett & Dunlap, 1970, ISBN 0448054299.

Recent media articles:

See also:

Credits and other links:

  • Andretti homepage - http://www.andretti.com/
  • Grand Prix Hall of Fame - Biography - http://www.ddavid.com/formula1/mario_bio.htm
  • Internet Movie Data Base (IMDb) - http://imdb.com/
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mario_Andretti
  • Caricature (1998 postcard) - Marisa Ciceran
  • Photograph (1974) - eBay
  • Family photograph (1947) - Quattro ciacole sotto la losa, Notiziario quadrimestrale della "Famiglia Montonese", April 2006 - http://www.arcipelagoadriatico.it/pdf/stampa_giulianodalmata/4ciacole_sotolalosa_2006apr.pdf
  • http://www.pabook.libraries.psu.edu/LitMap/bios/Andretti__Mario.html
  • http://www.andrettiracing.com/bio.php
  • Photograph (1969 Indy) - http://sports.espn.go.com/rpm/racing/indycar/columns/story?columnist=blount_terry&id=3390202
  • Photograph (2008) - http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20080510/BLOG25/842394278/0/SPORTS

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This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran and Michael Plass

Created: Wednesday, January 20, 1999. Last Updated: Thursday, October 31, 2013
Copyright © 1998 IstriaNet.org, USA