CHAMPCAR/CART: Andrettis Celebrate Father's Day On Track

Father's Day. For most, it's a time to celebrate at home with family. For a racing family like the Andrettis, Father's Day 2000 has special meaning this year as for the first time, three generations of the famous racing clan will be in three...

Father's Day. For most, it's a time to celebrate at home with family. For a racing family like the Andrettis, Father's Day 2000 has special meaning this year as for the first time, three generations of the famous racing clan will be in three different locations, all trying for the same thing, an on-track victory.

In this first-time interview with Ford Racing, all three generations of the racing Andrettis - Mario, Michael and Marco - talk about the influence of racing on their lives, their racing careers, and the pressures of living up to the Andretti name.

Here's where they will be:

*Mario Andretti, 60, will be competing in his Ford-powered Panoz LMP-1 roadster in the historic 24 hours of Le Mans

*CART's winningest active driver and driver of the Big Kmart/Texaco Havoline Ford-Cosworth, Michael Andretti, 37, will be seeking his third win at the Detroit Grand Prix.

*Marco Andretti, 13, son of Champ Car great Michael, will be competing in the Yamaha Sportster karting series this weekend at Oakland Valley Raceway in Newport Jervis, N.Y. and looks to pad his lead in the series' points championship.

Mario Andretti -- WHEN MICHAEL CAME TO YOU ABOUT GOING RACING, WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL THOUGHTS? "Well, it was not like we were sitting down and he told me he wanted to go racing. I was more of a natural thing seeing as how growing up, the kids were exposed to all sorts of motorized toys, cars and things like that at a very young age that go-karting would be a natural thing for them to want to do. Michael's situation for instance, when he was eight he wanted to start running go-karts. And that's pretty young. So there I was, busy running Formula One, traveling all over the place, but I had some close friends who were involved who would be able to take care of the machines. So he started running and now and then I could go to the races. He loved it and was winning races right out of the box almost. Then at nine years old he won a National Event at Pocono on the big track. The interesting thing about it was that I was there one day before a Formula One race and at that time we didn't have radar, so I thought I would try to see how fast he was going. So I followed him with this Ford van I had down the long straight away and I got up to 109 mph and he was pulling away from me in a go-kart. I thought to myself, 'Oh my god! No wonder my wife thinks I am crazy,' and there was Michael, like, no problem and he went on to win the event and when they gave him the trophy, it was bigger than he was. So he went through the go-kart years and then you kind of figure that he got the racing out of his system and he would go onto pursue something else. But I think with Michael, he was totally focused on racing, perhaps even more than I was, because he was born in that environment. I don't think he ever thought about pursuing anything else. I think he thought racing was his destiny. After go-karts the natural thing was to go to some of these driving schools are probably some of the best ways to evaluate yourself. Growing up he had several different opportunities at many different driving schools and he was breaking student records all over. He was at one school in Belgium where, as a student, he was quicker than the instructor was. He probably did a textbook approach to racing as far as going from stepping-stone to stepping-stone because we put him into Formula Fords, and he was a winner there. Next we put him in Atlantics, and he was a winner there. From Atlantics then he jumped into a few sports car races. In 1983 I had him with me in Le Mans when at that point he had never experienced speeds of over maybe a hundred and forty or fifty miles-per-hour and at Le Mans he was running over 220 mph, but we tested him properly to feel that kind of speed, and he was just yawning about it. It was just amazing. He seemed to be prepared all along. The transitions between the stages in his career were subtle, but decisive. I never really felt there was a decision point where he decided to be a race driver, it seemed to just go in that direction. Michael matured quite quickly in my opinion and he had a good taste of my side of racing, it's not like he was coming in from the outside with stars in his eyes and seeing a wreath around his neck every weekend. He knew from my experiences. I was not bringing a trophy home every weekend either. I didn't have to stress to him that there is a lot of sacrifice that goes into racing. That he has to give up all the weekends and the holiday picnics because that's when we are working. It didn't phase him because he saw that in me. He grew up with that. That's how it all happened."

WHAT WAS YOUR PROUDEST MOMENT AS A FATHER AND AS A COMPETITOR IN REGARDS TO MICHAEL? "It almost goes hand in hand. I'd say it was the spectacular one-two finish we had on Father's Day in Portland in 1986. I beat him by seven one-thousandths of a second. I beat him literally by two inches. It was Father's Day, so rightfully I should have won but I really shouldn't have because he dominated the race. Michael lost that race because he had a fuel pick-up problem. Knowing that he was decisively the winner and there it was that I won, we could both have a chuckle about it and really enjoy the moment. He said after the race to me, 'There you go Dad, happy Father's Day.' That same year was also the first time he made a really aggressive pass on me. We were racing at the Meadowlands, he banged wheels with me and I knew he was going for it. I watched him pitch the car through the esses and I thought, 'Wow, now I have to pass him.' At that point I knew he was in his element and I knew he was going to be tough and probably the biggest thorn in my side as long as I was going to be (in CART). But with all the mixed emotions, you are just so proud to see how sweet it is to watch your own guy be the man many times. When I look back at the times we have had at the track together either on the front row starting together or on podiums, you look at the average, and we got to do that much more than we deserved. I think we were on podiums together some ten times and I think on the front row together eight times in a Champ car race. The 1986 Pocono 500 weekend was another great weekend for the family. My younger son Jeff, who was driving in the ARS series, which is now Indy Lights, was on pole and ended up winning the race, Michael was on pole for the 500 and I won the 500. So between the three of us we cleaned house that weekend. We won everything there was to win. As a family there are no better moments. This sport has given us back a lot over the years."

WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN YOU HEARD MARCO, MICHAEL'S SON, WANTED TO START DRIVING? "I kind of sat back and chuckled a bit. I said 'here we go.' It was only natural. I don't know how you could keep Marco from trying go-karts. There was no way. Just a week ago, I called Marco and found out that he won both races he was in over the weekend. He won the Yamaha class and the Shifter class. He runs the shifter class in an 80cc go-kart against kids who race 125cc go-karts and I called him and said, 'Boy Marco, you are really blowing their doors off,' and he said, 'Yeah, I am having fun, it was good. It was a night race, which I liked.' And then he told me he is 350 points in the lead of the class, so he is likely going to win the championship. I tell you, he is spectacular to watch. He has such car control. I hope he stays hungry and enjoys what he is doing. The main thing I asked him though, and I mean this very seriously, is if he is having fun, and he said yes. Because at the beginning when he started I think there was too much pressure. There were too many people around and there was too much euphoria when he would do good and people telling him that he was still their champion when he didn't do well. It got to the point where he just wanted people to kind of leave him along and let him do his thing. Now that it has settled down, he isn't too concerned about other people's emotions who are around him and he is doing his thing. I can tell now that he is relaxed and he is truly having fun, and that's the main thing. That may set the stage for him to pursue it further. But only time will tell."

WHAT WAS FATHER'S DAY LIKE WHEN YOU WERE RACING? BECAUSE YOU WERE LIKELY AT A RACETRACK, DID YOU DO ANYTHING SPECIAL TO CELEBRATE THE DAY? "Not really. We were never a family who got into total celebrations of things. We kind of maintained an even keel in our lifestyle. And that's what we liked. Father's Day was acknowledged, but there was no big celebration with it. There was no, 'Daddy you are my hero,' or stuff like that, and I liked that. I don't think those expressions need to be that euphoric. I think when you are spending quality time with your kids even though the time may not be abundant, but that the time is quality, that say's it all. That's what the sport has been able to give me. Yes, I was on the road a lot when the kids were young, but when I was home, I was home. I would say that sometimes I think I had more quality time with my kids than parents that are at home everyday but work all day, come home and are tired and take it for granted that the kids are there but they never see them."

THIS YEAR, ANOTHER FAMOUS RACING FAMILY, THE PETTYS, SUFFERED A TRAGEDY WITH THE LOSS OF ADAM AT A RACE. I AM SURE YOU CAN RELATE TO THAT SITUATION. IS THAT SOMETHING THAT SITS IN THE BACK OF YOUR MIND? "Oh yes. Believe me, it's always with you. As safe as the sport is today, and thank God we are enjoying the safest moments in the history of the sport, you still can't control the freak potential. Look at Adam Petty. Who would have thought that at a track that the Busch cars don't do more than 130 mph, 140 on the straight at best, with all the protection that they have that he would have been killed on a mile track like that. No way would you have thought that could happen. When you are exposed for long periods of time, you never know what fate you will have to deal with. Look at his family - his granddad, Richard, Kyle - look at all the miles they have raced and the hundreds and hundreds of races they have raced in and no serious injuries. Yet the young 19 year-old in a brief career pays the supreme price. It does cross your mind. Look at the injuries that Jeff (Andretti) suffered at Indy. We have been touched by it. Jeff paid quite a price there. He will never walk normal again and we all know that. Yet, we are in it with our eyes wide open. We all have our own philosophies to deal with, but deep down, to do something worthwhile in your life, there is always a potential price to pay."

Michael Andretti -6- Big Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford-Cosworth - WHEN MARCO MENTIONED TO YOU THAT HE WANTED TO GO RACING, WHAT WERE YOUR INITIAL THOUGHTS? "I guess my initial thought was whether or not he really wanted to do it and why did he want to do it. Was it because he was an Andretti or because he really wanted to do it? When he first started he was doing it more so because he felt like he had to do it and when he was ten years old, he quit racing. The he came to me last year and told me he wanted to start racing again. So I told him that if he wanted race, he had to do it all. He needed to go and set it up and handle everything that goes with it because I didn't have the time. Plus, I wanted him to do it all on his own to get an appreciation for how much hard work goes into it and show me that he really wanted to do it. He seems to really be into it. I keep telling him to do it for himself and not to do it for me, or anybody else. So far, he is liking it and having fun with it. That's the other thing thing I told him - go have fun with it. Just have fun and whatever happens, happens. Also, there is a pressure thing there that you just feel deep down that racing is what you need to do. I am trying to tell him that he doesn't have to race. When I was his age, I felt pressure that I had to do it. I really didn't have fun with it when I started it. Everyone was watching me very closely, and I felt that all my life, even when I got older. There are so many people watching and some of them even hope you fail. There was a ton of pressure. There has to be even more pressure on Marco because now he has two people in his family that he will be compared to. I just keep telling him to have fun with it and do the best he can."

WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE RACING MOMENT WITH YOUR FATHER? "Well I am sure he told you about the Father's Day race in Portland where he won. I had mixed feelings about that race because I dominated the race and then ended up losing it on the last lap. But if I had to lose the race, I am glad I lost it to dad. It was just a little strange that it was Father's Day when it all came down. For me, though, the one that was really special, was the last race of the season in Laguna Seca when I won the championship. Dad was there on the podium with me. That was really special."

HOW MUCH DOES THE FACT THAT YOU GREW UP UNDER THE SAME KIND OF PRESSURES THAT MARCO IS FACING, OR WILL FACE, HELP HIM AND THE SITUATION? "If anything, I think I know the situation a little better because I was on the other end of it. There are a lot of things that Dad doesn't know about because he was the first in the family to do it. I think I can help Marco approach things differently because of my experiences. I think it's an advantage for Marco that I sort of know what he is going through. I am going to try and make it as easy for him as possible."

GROWING UP, WAS THERE ANYTHING SPECIAL ABOUT FATHER'S DAY? HOW DID YOU CELEBRATE IT? "Holidays in our sport are a little strange. We are always racing on them so to celebrate them is a bit tough with our schedule, but we make up for it on the days when I am home."

THIS YEAR, ANOTHER FAMOUS RACING FAMILY, THE PETTYS, SUFFERED A TRAGEDY WITH THE LOSS OF ADAM AT A RACE. I AM SURE YOU CAN RELATE TO THAT SITUATION. IS THAT SOMETHING THAT SITS IN THE BACK OF YOUR MIND AND HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THAT? "What happened to Adam was a tragedy. We all pretty much understand what the deal is about. In the end, Adam knew what he was dealing with, too. He understood the risks, but he loved what he was doing and those risks are the bad side of the sport. We do have that negative side. You can't be surprised when it happens, but you are never prepared for it if it does. You know that those risks are there and unfortunately when they happen you need to deal with them and if you are not able to, then you shouldn't be in it. Adam was going to be in it because he loved it. It's a tough deal. Those things can happen anytime, look at Davey (Alison), when he died, it had nothing to do with a racecar. Things can happen at anytime."

HOW MUCH DOES MARCO COME TO YOU FOR ADVICE? "He doesn't come to me too much for advice. He likes talking about his racing, though, and about what he did. He isn't a big one to ask for advice. At the same time, I try not to be too overbearing about it either. The guys who are handling his car are the ones that I like to let deal with it. I don't even know a lot of the stuff that they are doing with the karts now to stay on top of it. So a lot of my advice wouldn't be good anyway. The only kind of advice I give him is to have fun and not let what other people think influence you."

SO FAR IN HIS RACING CAREER, WHAT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF MARCO FOR DOING? "Probably getting his whole kart deal organized again. Racing is a personal choice. I would never push that on anybody. It really showed me how serious he was about it and that he really wanted to do it again. Then watching him race. I am just very proud of him because the way he races. He does a really good job. The kid's got talent."

WHAT DO YOU SEE IN MARCO, A DRIVER WHO EXHIBITS MORE YOUR STYLE OF DRIVING OR MARIO'S STYLE? "I don't know yet. It's still too early to tell. I think his drive is a little different than mine, which is a good thing. I didn't have as much fun with it because what drove me was the fear of failure. That's what drove me to want to win. He loves the glory side of it, much like my Dad. He is doing it for the win and all the stuff that comes with it. I think that's good. That's healthy for him because I think he is going to have more fun with it than I did."

Marco Andretti - YOU SEEM TO BE VERY BUSY WITH YOUR OWN RACING CAREER THIS YEAR. HOW DO YOU LIKE IT? "I am doing quite a bit of racing this year. I have about 20 races I am going to be doing this year all over New York. I am getting right into the groove. It kind of blows your weekend, but it's a lot of fun. I really like it. I am leading the championship in the Yamaha Sportster class right now. I have a guy that helps me out a lot with the car. I don't do it all alone. I really like driving the most. I don't really like the pressure of worrying about much of that other stuff out there."

DO YOU FEEL ANY PRESSURE BEING AN ANDRETTI?  "I don't really feel any of
that.  I try to ignore it as much as I can.  I just race for fun."

YOU ARE ONLY THIRTEEN, SO YOU PROBABLY DON'T HAVE YOU WHOLE LIFE PLANNED OUT, BUT WOULD YOU SAY THAT RACING IS YOUR BIGGEST INTEREST RIGHT NOW? "Yes, I think it is. I can't really say that I am going to do in the future. I'll just see how it treats me now and we will see what the outcome is. I like to do other things, too. I like all kinds of sports from hockey, I play basketball during the off season, and I play tennis at the house. I like different kinds of things."

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE RACECAR DRIVER? "Who do you think? My Dad."

WHO IS YOUR SECOND FAVORITE? "I don't have one."

IF YOU DECIDE TO MAKE RACING YOUR CAREER, WHAT KIND OF CARS DO YOU SEE YOURSELF DRIVING? "Probably Champ cars from what I hear from my Dad. I try not to think about that."

WHEN YOUR DAD SHOWS UP AT A RACE, DOES HIM BEING THERE MAKE YOU WANT TO DO BETTER? "Yeah, it does. It makes me want to win. You want to do good in front of your Dad. I think it's that way with every kid."

DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING SPECIAL PLANNED FOR FATHER'S DAY THIS WEEKEND?  "Not
really.  We are both going to be racing this weekend.  So is my grandfather,
which is pretty cool.  Three generations racing the same weekend."

I HEAR YOU ARE CARRYING THE ANDRETTI HELMET DESIGN, BUT YOU HAVE CHANGED THE COLORS A BIT . . . "Yeah, it looks just like my Dad's helmet, but the red stripe down the middle is green so it matches my car."

IN YOUR MIND, WHAT WOULD BE A BETTER FATHER'S DAY PRESENT FOR YOUR DAD, FOR YOU TO WIN THIS WEEKEND, OR FOR YOUR DAD TO WIN IN DETROIT? "For my Dad to win in Detroit, for sure."

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Adam Petty , Michael Andretti , Mario Andretti , Marco Andretti