At 81, Mario Andretti isn’t slowing down. He’s still traveling across the country to different races and speaking engagements. He still plays tennis and water skis. He’s as active as ever.
What’s the key?
“I know what works for me,” Andretti said. “I enjoy life by doing things that I look forward to doing. To me, work is enjoyment. I could not survive otherwise quite honestly. This sport provides me with the type of life I relish. I’m very fortunate about that.”
Andretti remains one of the most avid supporters of open-wheel racing. That’s where he made a name for himself, winning 52 IndyCar races and four championships in his career. His racing career expanded beyond that, though, and into NASCAR. Andretti and A.J. Foyt are the only two drivers in history to win an Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500.
Andretti also has won the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb and a Formula 1 championship.
But IndyCar remains his top passion. He is as excited as anyone for the season to start Sunday with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The series comes to Texas Motor Speedway for a doubleheader event on May 1-2.
The Star-Telegram had a wide-ranging interview with Andretti recently.
On the 2021 season: “I’m champing at the bit for it to get going, no question. More than ever, we are very anxious to see some action and get started. It’s interesting to see some new faces at the top of the sheet, a lot of kids from Indy Lights who are not just making noise, they’re screaming. There’s a lot to look forward to this year. The younger contingent is standing up to some of the veterans. The product is there. All you have to do is have enough promotion to create excitement.”
On the level of competition: “The product is as good as it’s ever been. It just needs to be exposed more vigorously. Like I said, promotion, promotion, promotion. Once people start paying attention and getting involved in it, then you keep looking forward to things. Today’s audience is very demanding and much more sophisticated. They want action all the time. You cannot always produce that, you can’t design it specifically, but overall when you look back at all the variety of venues they go to, there’s plenty to look forward to. The series is in a good place. It’s up as far as quality overall.”
On Jimmie Johnson joining the series: “It’s huge for the sport to see this type of movement. Someone who had a brilliant career in stock car and is now still young enough that he wants to see what he can do in the IndyCar and open cockpit. I have so much reverence for that. It’s phenomenal for IndyCar. He’s welcomed with open arms. And a guy like that won’t be satisfied just being there, he wants to win. A guy with that type of talent, sooner than later, you’ll see his number up at the top. I’ve always had a special appreciation for the drivers to move around and explore. I know how much it satisfied me in my career, and I love to see that happening to someone else, especially an individual like Jimmie Johnson.”
On Johnson’s chances of being the third driver to win a Daytona 500 and Indy 500: “It’s not easy. Something like that never was, but it absolutely could happen with him. All it takes is the right combination to make it happen. A guy like Jimmie Johnson with the right team, which I think he’s with [at Chip Ganassi Racing], could be the one for sure. I guarantee you, A.J. and myself, we had the right ingredients under us. Without that, it wouldn’t have happened. Jimmie is with a first-rate team, and that’s half the battle.”
On Scott Dixon, who has 50 career wins and is two away from tying Andretti for second all-time: “He’s as good as they come, no question. We always look back and assess the different eras, and I’ve always thought the champions of yesteryear would be champions today and vice versa. A driver like Scott possesses a certain quality that he’s always there. He’s consistent. Scott represents the best of the best — as a driver and as a man.”
On Roger Penske entering Year 2 as IndyCar’s owner: “To have someone like Roger Penske at the helm, you can’t do any better. So much to look forward to with him as owner [post pandemic]. He represents a lot of strengths and stability in the sport. He’s a good ingredient to have. We’re just coming out of this pandemic, and hopefully the light gets brighter and brighter at the end of the tunnel.”