An Interview With: MARIO ANDRETTI T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone and welcome to the CART media teleconference. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to be with us today. Our guest today needs no introduction, so this will be ...
An Interview With: MARIO ANDRETTI
T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone and welcome to the CART media teleconference. Thanks to all of you for taking the time to be with us today.
Our guest today needs no introduction, so this will be brief, but here are just a few highlights. In a record 407 career champ car starts, he owns 52 victories, second all-time. 67 pole positions, a champ car record; and 7,587 laps led, another champ car mark. He won United States Auto Club Championships in 1965, '66 and '69, as well as the 1978 Formula 1 World Championship and the 1984 CART FedEx Championship Series Championship. We are honored today to be joined by the legendary Mario Andretti.
Welcome Mario, and thanks for being with us this afternoon.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Thank you, T.E. Thanks for having me.
If I may briefly say something. I just spoke with Alex Zanardi about 35 minutes ago, and I tell you, I had not spoken with him because I was not at the race. So I just waited for -- I don't know what the appropriate time is, but he was happy to have a conversation with me.
I came away, I tell you, with -- if you want some inspiration of courage, I mean, a test -- a really true test of character that we never want to undergo, but, I mean, this guy is a champion's championship. He is uplifting me on the other side. He sounded so incredibly strong, and positive.
Like I said, I got a dose of inspiration for the rest of my life here, just talking with him today, so I just thought you would like to know.
T.E. McHALE: We appreciate the update. We certainly are keeping Alex and his family in our thoughts and prayers, and that's great news. Thanks for sharing that with us.
Just to make you aware Mario, is one of numerous champ legends who will participate in a variety of fan-focus activity throughout the final FedEx Championship Series weekend of the season; that would be the Marlboro 500 Presented by Toyota. He will be joined by such talented drivers of the past and present as Rick Mears, Bobby Unser, Bobby Rahal, Parnelli Jones, Danny Sullivan, Tom Sneva, Dan Gurney, Wally Dallenbach, Michael Andretti, Mario's son, Jimmy Vasser and Gil de Ferran.
In addition, Mario's new biography, entitled, "Mario Andretti: A Driving Passion," will be launched during this weekend's Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston, Round 18 of the FedEx Championship Series. The 152-page book is the first comprehensive biography of Mario's racing life and is written by veteran auto-racing journalist, Gordon Kirby and published by David Bull Publishing of Phoenix, Arizona.
Another quick reminder that the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston, Round 18 of the FedEx Championship Series will be televised live on ESPN this Sunday October 7, beginning at 2:00 PM Eastern time.
Q. Your comments about Zanardi I thought were -- I haven't spoken to Alex, but I've spoken to Mo Nunn and Mo's wife, Catherine, and, you know they are like you. They are just amazed at Alex's spirits and his whole attitude, so great to hear.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Yeah, as I said, it's so difficult to especially have the initial conversation with someone that has been stricken in such a way, and again, obviously, I've been thinking of him every day.
Again, I just was hoping that he would take my call, and, of course he did. But, again, I'm not surprised at his attitude, but at the same time, I figure, "Oh my God, how can he be so up, how can he be so positive, how can he be talking about I'm still looking forward to life," and so on and so forth. Obviously, the strength of his family and his friends, but, again, it's that inner strength I think that can only carry you through something like this. I cannot even imagine, you know, what he's going through. But at the same time, I mean, here he is, again, you know, I'm the one that's down and he's the one that was picking me up. So I'm not sure that I could ever do that, quite honestly, but as I said, it's a real inspiration there as to how some people really are strong. Again, that's why he was the champion that he was, quite honestly.
Q. Absolutely. I would like to talk a little about the book, but let's put that off for a bit. One of the things that strikes me about the much-maligned CART series, just right now, is that we just had the U.S. Grand Prix, Michael Schumacher has wrapped up the World Championship; Jeff Gordon is running away with the NASCAR title; Sam Hornish has won the IRL Series. The CART Championship, it's as wide open as ever. You've for four or five guys, three or four teams, all with a good chance. Just talk about what that's all about, the level of competitiveness in CART?
MARIO ANDRETTI: That's easy to do. I've been saying this all along, and I'm not just Dr. Feel Good. I mean, the facts are that I've been around, and I'm not used to being a spectator, but I tell you what, I never thought that I would really be looking forward to events, every event, every practice event, every activity that's going on on the track because it's so incredibly -- I can only call it electrifying. And I'll say why. Because I watch Michael, of course, and he can be up there in the speed charts at the very top, first, second or third; he can be five minutes in the pits -- like through a practice, he will go out 18th. It's unbelievable. It's unbelievable. If you are not on the track until the last second, until the last lap of practice, you have no chance of being first; in other words, it's always the last guys that come off the track that will always have the quick time.
Again, that, plus the races there. You talk about events that are so unpredictable, you try to predict who will be the winner of the next race in Houston. I mean, there's no way. Not even educated guesses might work; that's how wide open it is.
Also, going along the season, you look at the jockeying around in the points. I think our points system is also great because of that. Some other organizations, you've got to perform miracles just to gain just a little bit. Here, I mean, CART really rewards absolute raw performance. It's not just hanging around and collecting points because you are there. That's what I really like about it, and that's what it's all about. That's why the championship is still wide open, and it's going to be, obviously, a barn-burner right to the end.
Q. Over the years that you've been in racing, a lot of things have changed. Certainly, the whole idea of the camaraderie that we series in CART now was different when you were racing. Can you comment on that, and how you see these changes, and if you think they are for the better?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, I think I must generalize on that a little bit. I think if you look, every sport has undergone big changes in that respect. Let's face it, everything has become much more sophisticated, more technical, more demanding in that respect, more professional, much more professional, and because of that, I mean, you don't have the time to go out there and play practical jokes and everything the way we used to.
Even in later years that I was active, I didn't have any free time once I got out of that cockpit, even during practice. The next thing was some functions or something for the sponsors, debriefing, and then boom. All of that was taken up by regimentation, and the more competitive the sport becomes, the more teams gain strength in the field, the tougher it gets. Again, repeat, more demanding.
So is that bad? I think that's good. You know, like I said, oh, yeah, the camaraderie and everything else I think had an appeal to it, but there was a time for it.
I think all sports have become of age, and you're much more supposed and much more responsible, and that's it. I mean, I'll tell you a little story. It's actually in the book. It's Bobby Unser and I. You talk about devoting a lot of energy at different times to just practical jokes. We were lining up for -- to qualify for a race in Hanford, California, '69, and I owed him one, but I had him paged to the phone booth in the middle of the infield, and it was three cars before it was his turn to go out to qualify. I sent an emergency call and he goes out there and I taped him in the booth. Can you imagine today? I would have a $10 million suit on my doorstep from a sponsor and so on and so forth, but somehow we got away to do those things, a story we'll be able to tell and embarrass the left rest of our lives.
But the fact that things have changed, and Michael cannot share these stories with me is not bad. I think it's good. I think it's part of life. Things are changed and I think they have changed for better in the overall, because let's face it, these guys are earning what they deserve, also. I know the races I used to race -- and I look at my record and I look at my earning curve versus Michael. I'll give you another example. 1978 my World Championship year, you know, what I earned that year is less than what Michael earns in one of his 12 payments in his contracts. So, is that bad? I mean, I think it's good for Michael.
So I could leave the practice jokes at home and earn more because you have more sponsorship, more involvement in the part of the industry, and everybody wants to be a part of it because it's a great showcase for the product.
Again, I think everything, in my opinion, is for the better.
Q. What about the future of open-wheel racing in U.S. and the direction of CART by becoming more international? What do you think about that?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, I think that CART has no choice but to spread their wings into some international markets. It's definitely a national series with a National Championship, but it's got this international flavor because it's been covered. I mean, the CART events are seen and it's, what, 200 countries, you know. I didn't even know there were that many countries in the world. I know in my travels, and I do travel considerably for the companies I work with, Texaco and so on, when I'm in South America and Singapore or the North Pole, people know and ask me pertinent questions about the CART races. And CART as a series is much bigger than NASCAR on a worldwide basis.
Would we like to have the popularity of NASCAR in the United States at the moment? Yes. Will we always continue working toward achieving some of that and trying to increase the fan interest? Yes. But at the same time, you just have to really go where the markets that want you. Let's take Monterrey, Mexico as the first race of the season. I mean, unbelievable. Did we ever feel so welcomed to be in Mexico, with over 200,000 people there -- I think it was close to 300,000 in three days. Why shouldn't we go to those markets and showcase a great American series? It's nice that we'll draw 20,000 people outside of these United States -- you don't think they would go, but they don't. Their product doesn't interest outside of the United States.
Like I said, that's what CART has to do, what is best for the series, in the overall, the world is small. But there's still a great, strong open-wheel fan base in the United States, and again, I hope that we will continue to have good presence here. But there's nothing wrong with spreading our wings abroad.
Q. I happened to see you on Politically Incorrect on Friday. With all of your travels for your sponsors as you mentioned, and just with the series that you are going to be running in, what other plans do you have for the future, either racing or non-racing related?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, I'll continue to make some good wine. (Laughs).
Q. Still have time to do that?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, I have the experts doing that, of course. I enjoy the finished product. That's what I try to do, and nothing like a great glass of wine, when you start relaxing at the end of the day.
Yeah, I have a lot of things on my plate, and these are the things that present a challenge that I welcome. I mean, we have a petroleum company that we are expanding, some auto dealerships and so on and so forth, and we try to have the proper captain to head all of these divisions. Again, I'll go to all of the CART races that I can and I continue to do so. Along the way, I might dabble into a little bit of racing myself.
As you can see, we are not really retired, and don't intend to be for a long, long time. The bottom line is I'd like to enjoy my life and be productive at the same time and that's really what I'm doing right now.
Q. Speaking of Politically Incorrect, I was both impressed and intrigued by your appearance last Friday. Could you talk about how that came about, and also, what the fact that they identified you on the show solely as, "Champ Car Legend," is that a step in the right direction at making the series more visible to the general public?
MARIO ANDRETTI: I hope so, anyway. I think we need to do that. CART, I think, has been sort of -- a little bit of an identity crisis with the champ car series, because there was a period, you know, in the 70s where all of a sudden these cars were referred to as Indy cars. You don't refer to a Formula 1 car, Monte Carlo car, Silver Stone car -- obviously, Indy was a good way to describe to people what these cars were all about and where they belong, but still, it's a formula. And like it or not, that's the way it was born. In champ car racing or in open-wheel racing -- in the top formulas you had midgets, strength cars and champ cars. They call it, for lack of a better word, that's what it is. What does formula F-1 mean? It's F1. It's catchy. Our heritage goes back to the early 1900s, and CART has the rightful name to it and the rightful heritage that continues.
To answer your question, how I got to Politically Incorrect, I was doing a day and a half of promotion in the L.A. area for the Marlboro 500 in Fontana, primarily, and of course, there they are doing some programs, bringing on some past champions and so on like they did last year. So because of that, they got me on this -- on the Politically Incorrect show, and they used this as a champ car driver identification to bring me on and I thought that was good. And I enjoy the show -- could never express yourself never but I enjoyed it.
Q. I was disappointed in the show, however, in that the topics were a bit generic and it didn't address what I consider your unique situation as one of America's most illustrious and successful naturalized citizens of all time. Given all of the talk recently about what America should or should not do with immigrants, where would you stand on that issue with regard to today's events and your personal history?
MARIO ANDRETTI: I was trying to pick up on that. Again, you have to realize, you only have like 22 minutes of talk time total and you have -- you know, there are like five of us talking. So, again, Bill Maher touched on the immigration situation, and he touched on and pointed -- he started out by saying, "Should every one of us have a chip up our butt to be able to be surveyed" and so on and so forth.
We got sidetracked, but my comeback on that would have been: I think that everyone is applying for a Visa, temporary a Visa in the United States probably should have a chip up the butt, so as to be able to monitor the movements and so on and so forth. In view of what has happened, obviously, I don't think too much of a violation of individual rights.
Again, a lot of things are being done, many things that I personally agree with and many that I really don't. I think over reaction sometimes is worse than no reaction at all, and what I think we are seeing is incredible over reaction in some airport security that creates so much inconvenience that it's killing the airlines. Believe me, many more people that don't travel don't travel because of the inconvenience, rather than being afraid to travel, to try. I surely am correct on that. You can't tell me that -- why should they only focus on the airports, like abolishing all of the parking within 1,500 feet or whatever. If they do that, they might as well close all of the retailers around the country and so on and so forth, just don't take the car out of the garage.
The one thing that you have to remember, just even with the security that was in place, it worked. These terrorists did not get on the airplane with firepower. They got there with a couple box cutters, a couple short knives. If they would have had a marshal, an air marshal on the airplane, armed, probably he would have taken care of all of that.
The next thing what they are doing with, I agree with the President, is obviously endorsing, you know, this reinforcement of cockpit cars. The pilots should only have control of the door from the inside. It should not be able to be penetrated from outside. There are a couple relatively simple aspects that can and should be done and should be the biggest deterrent, rather than just going through three different lines on the airport where it doesn't mean anything.
So I'm very strong about that, because I travel every day, and I just see that some airports are just doing something for the sake of doing it. The FAA is doing a terrible job on this. My airport here in Allentown, they have two lanes in front of the terminal, so they close the inner lane next to the curb, so you can't drive past the curb, but one lane over it's open. So is that stupidity or what? You got an earful there.
Q. Glad you haven't stopped flying.
MARIO ANDRETTI: I will never stop flying.
Q. I saw a special on a network regarding racing families and your family was on there. How is the family doing and how are Jeff and Michael and, of course, John and Aldo getting along?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Thank you for asking. The family is doing very well. Of course, let's pick up on Jeff. Jeff, I think, will be testing a car in Atlanta, Mr. Panoz is giving him the opportunity and I appreciate that very much. Of course, you can imagine, you're still trying to get something going in his career before he might have to call it quits.
Of course, I think we know how Michael is doing. He's pretty much on track here and focused on the CART FedEx Championship.
You know, the rest of the family, as I say, everyone is wonderful. John is struggling in NASCAR a little bit, as we know. He should get it all together there ultimately. The team is a good team. It's got a lot of dimension.
For the rest, you know, we're just pulling forward and going to the races.
Q. How are you doing, anyway?
MARIO ANDRETTI: I'm doing wonderful, thank you.
Q. It sounds like it. CART has formed a partnership with the Shelby Cobra Challenge, and your name is listed as one of the drivers and we are tentatively scheduled to have you race here in 2002. Could you talk about that series?
MARIO ANDRETTI: It's a series that's been talked about for some time, and it looks like they are finally able to put the pieces together. I hope that they can finalize sponsorship and everything that they need to really launch it the way they want to.
Again, I think they are going forward with building the car and making 15, 16, 18 cars available. You know, they invite us guys, if we can get out of bed that morning, you know, they will probably go race. I think it's a great opportunity for us to sort of stretch our legs a little bit. I've been saying it for some time because we have not been getting any younger. It could be interesting. It could be Shelby Cobra is a car that it's enough of a race car I think that it will look good out there and sound good and it will be fast.
So, again, if it all happens, and I hope it does hopefully, we should be involved.
Q. (By Gordon Kirby): I wonder if you could say a few words about the book we are debuting tomorrow evening. Appreciate all of your time and effort. Two years well spent. What do you think?
MARIO ANDRETTI: Well, all I can do is thank you, Gordon, because I'm so proud of this, and as you know, this is my fourth book, and this is one that I really wanted to do. All of the others, I think it's wonderful that I did, and after the fact, I was happy, but I resisted and I never really wanted to get involved because of all of the work that goes into it. I wasn't all that interested in the fact that we were light on topics. Now, here, we're light on topics, but we're really telling a story, you know, as far as every race car that I've ever driven, with anecdotes and recollections that I never thought were possible.
You know, as we went on on this project, the more we talked, the more stimulated I became in remembering a lot of events and things, and it's all in there. As you say, we have events such as I said earlier, the practical jokes that we used to pull, to the serious stuff, the ups and downs of the career, and the good cars, the bad cars, the cars in between.
The package -- there are three versions, obviously, as you know. There's a paperback and a hardback and a publisher's version, a publisher's edition. With the sort of publicity we got around L.A., KTLA in the morning, they did really a great service on it, and Bill Maher, of course; and we talked about some of the radio shows; and the first signing that I had at Border's in Torrence was incredible. Really, as soon as I arrived there, I arrived a half hour early because I had to leave exactly at the time prescribed because I had a flight to catch. I was there for two hours, and, you know, we couldn't get everybody in.
They had the hard covers sold out the minute that I walked in, and somebody told me they had more than five books there, so we are in pretty good shape, I think.
Q. It was a great project to do, and anybody who is in Houston tomorrow evening, come on by Border's and Mario and myself will be delighted to sign a copy for you.
MARIO ANDRETTI: You bet.
T.E. McHALE: We will wrap it up for the afternoon as Mario has a flight to catch, surprisingly enough. Thanks for being with us this afternoon. Congratulations on the book. Best of luck in your many endeavors going forward and we look forward to seeing you in Houston.
MARIO ANDRETTI: Thank you, T.E. .
T.E. McHALE: Thanks to all of you who took the time to be us with afternoon. Take care and we'll see you next week.