He could drive the wheels off anything he raced. He was adept and comfortable in race cars with and without fenders. He won the Formula One Grand Prix Championship. He won the Daytona 500. He won the Indianapolis 500.
And even though his racing career stretched over five decades since coming to North America from his native Italy, Mario Andretti still has the passion and competitive nature to suit up and get into a race car.
And he would make a good showing of himself as well.
After the Andretti family settled into its Nazareth, Pennsylvania home in 1955, Mario and his twin brother Aldo already had racing on their minds after witnessing the Italian Grand Prix in Monza before gathering up and heading to America. Outside of Nazareth was a half-mile dirt oval, and the brothers built and raced a 1948 Hudson Hornet starting in 1959.
By 1964 the future superstar was racing on the USAC Sprint Car circuit as well as driving a Midget in the Eastern States. In fact, his first visit to Canada to race was during a USAC Midget race held on the CNE racetrack in Toronto.
It was also in 1965 that Andretti won his first Indy Car race, and he placed third in the Indy 500 that year, along with the championship, the youngest driver (he was 25) to do so. The next year, in 1966, he once again dominated the Champ Car Trail, winning eight races and his second straight championship.
For 1967, Andretti had a stellar year, winning NASCAR’s Daytona 500, winning his first of three 12 Hours of Sebring, and finishing second in the Champ cars. He was able to get into a Formula One car the next year, qualifying on the pole in his first race, the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, but was forced out with mechanical problems.
He would return to the sport’s highest echelon in the 1970s, and in a big way.
Andretti returned to Indy Car racing and in 1969 won the 500, leading 116 laps at the Brickyard. He won nine events that year, going on to win his third Indy Car title.
Andretti’s success continued in the early 1970s. He won at Sebring in 1970, and driving for Ferrari, won his first GP race at South Africa in 1971. Driving a Ferrari 312P, he won the Six Hours of Daytona, the 12 Hours of Sebring, the BAOC 1000 KM at Brands Hatch, and the Watkins Glen Six Hours, all in 1972.
At this time he continued where he started, on dirt tracks, winning USAC’s National Dirt Track Championship, along with winning seven Formula 5000 races in 1974 and 1975.
Working with Colin Chapman and Lotus, Andretti returned to F1 racing in 1976, winning races around the globe, and his efforts were culminated in 1978 when he won the World Championship, the first driver in history to win both the Formula One and Indy Car championships.
Andretti continued to race F1 in the 1980s, but success eluded him, and he returned to Indy Car racing, winning this championship once again in 1984. Throughout the decade he was a dominate racer in the series, and after winning his 51st Indy Car race in 1988, concentrated on the historic first father-son team with son Michael as they raced together.
In 1993 Andretti set another benchmark, winning his 52nd Indy Car victory, and making him the first driver to win Indy Car races in four decades and the first to win races in five decades.
In 1994 Andretti decided it would be his last year of active competition, and his Arrivederci, Mario Tour was a season-long campaign that was well received by his legions of fans and fellow racers.
Today Andretti continues to be in the mainstream of motorsport, working with several companies and associations as a spokesperson and associate. He continues to be totally involved in the sport while maintaining other interests such waterskiing, flying his ultra light, and his winery.
And today we honor Mario Andretti into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame, truly one of the sport’s greatest.