In Part 1 of this interview series, we looked at how Mario Andretti declared that if he had a car that was capable of qualifying on the pole at Indy, he’d still have the capability of getting the job done. He also didn’t debunk the notion of making a comeback in the 2019 Indy 500, which will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Mario’s victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
In Part 2, we examined the reasons why Andretti is actually in good enough racing shape to make an Indy 500 comeback a reality.
In Part 3, we briefly examined Andretti’s racing career and also noted the unique opportunities his career has afforded him.
In this final installment, Andretti discusses the best teammate he has ever had as well as the fear he faced when retiring from racing.
When assessing his most rewarding accomplishments in life, Andretti was asked to declare which was his greatest from the following list: Daytona 500 Champion, Indy 500 Champion, Formula 1 World Champion, or Grandfather.
Andretti said, “Well, from the human side, grandfather, for sure.”
He has three children (Michael, Jeffrey, and Barbra) who have blessed him with seven grandchildren (Marco, Marissa, Miranda, Isabella, Lucca, Miati, and Mario).
He mentioned that his family is very close and one of his priorities. In many ways, Andretti contributes the successes in his professional life due to the closeness his family has maintained.
“Family is important,” he said. “Without that, I don’t think I could have done the things that satisfy me, selfishly. I know that. There’s no doubt about that.”
Andretti and his wife, Dee Ann, are currently in their 57th year of marriage.
“Throughout my career, my wife has stood by me,” Andretti said. “I know it’s been important, despite the personal distractions, to try and keep the family together as much as possible. I’ve raced all over the world. I raced on six continents. Through it all, my wife has been the rock.
“She’s the one that’s been the best teammate I’ve ever had.”
When looking back on his career, Andretti is proud of the fact that he was one of the oldest drivers to retire at such a high level in the sport.
“In my career, I was so fortunate,” he said, while knocking on wood. “For so long, I squeezed every bit that I could out of it.”
After spending almost his entire life racing for a living, to suddenly stop racing full-time at 54 was a cause for concern.
“I had a certain fear about what would life be like after driving,” Andretti said. “Quite honestly, it took a little bit. Even physically. I lived on adrenaline most of my adult life. So even that affected me.
“Little by little, you find other things, but still, the competitive spirit is still there, and just the fact that I get in the (two-seater) is a really good thing for me. That’s my element.”
While he does still get to drive high-performance vehicles, as discussed in Part 2 of this series, taking on challenges and succeeding is the new fuel that feeds Andretti.
“I’m only retired from one phase of my life,” Andretti said. “I have responsibilities with different companies that I represent. There’s always something. My plate is pretty full. I do a lot of traveling, of course.
“I never really retired. I don’t think I ever will.”
His current list of business adventures include being a spokesman for Firestone as well as MagnaFlow Performance Exhaust. He is also a partner in Andretti Indoor Karting and Games centers, which currently have three locations open.
A unique venture that he has is being a part of the Mario Andretti Racing Experience, where anyone with a valid driver’s license can jump into an Indy-style race car, after minimal training, and reach speeds of up to 180 mph.
“My whole life has expanded into business ventures which we have and have been successful,” Andretti said, again, while knocking on wood.
What is probably his most “laid back” business venture is his Andretti Winery in Napa, California, where patrons can sample the various wines produced by the vineyard as well as host special events at the location.
“There’s always a challenge,” he said. “I love challenges and surrounding myself with the best people possible that are experts in their own area. We use the same formula in business that we do in the sport.
“Always surround yourself with the best people possible because the human element is what makes it all happen.”
Featured photo courtesy INDYCAR.