MICHAEL ANDRETTI , ...
MICHAEL ANDRETTI , #7 TEAM 7-ELEVEN DALLARA/HONDA/FIRESTONE:
IN ROUGHLY 48 HOURS YOU'LL BE STRAPPING IN FOR THE FINAL TIME--YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE MONTH OF MAY UP TO THIS POINT?
"Well, this month of May hasn't been a normal month of May, obviously with the team and ownership, and all that. But, I have to say it's been the most fun I've had in the month of May. This team has just been so fun to work with -- everyone from the drivers all the way down to the crew. It's just a different atmosphere and so good. And, in the end we're getting the results on the racetrack and I'm hoping that continues, for sure, this Sunday and all year. It's been a really good year and so, 48 hours from my last race, I'm not really even thinking about it. I'm still very, very focused on it just being another race. I've just got to try to win and that's what I'm going to do."
CAN YOU HIT ON SOME OF YOUR CAREER POINTS? MAYBE YOUR FIRST SEASON IN TOP-LEVEL RACING, YOUR FIRST YEAR HERE, FORMULA ONE, AND MAYBE SOME OF YOUR CHAMPIONSHIPS--MAYBE A COUPLE OF YOUR GOOD RACES?
"I don't know where to start. Well, obviously my first year, you know, to me it was such a great year. I think I had a great team that was eventually going to be at force. They gave me a chance. I came here in the month of May it was just a dream year. The car was running good, the team was working good, I mean, we won the pit-stop competition that year, I won rookie of the year. In some ways, 1984 was way too easy for me because it was so good. We should've won a few races, we had some bad luck. But then reality hits, and then the next year, which I think was very good for me. I mean, '85 was a disastrous year. We came through the first year and it was so hard the second year. You learn from the hard years. I think those are the type of years that really help you, you know? Sometimes the worst ones are your best ones. Then from that one, there was winning my first race in '86. Al (Unser), Jr., really made me do it in an honest way, which was awesome. It was so fitting to be going down to the final lap against Al, going wheel-to-wheel. And, you know, from then on we had so many great battles together. Probably in the history of my career, Al was always the guy that I had some of my best races with.
"Then, there's just the highlights -- of course I've had so many great ones. Winning in '91 at Laguna Seca was a storybook weekend. You can't have a better one. I mean, you look back -- you qualified pole, win the Marlboro Challenge, lead every lap of the race, win the championship, and you share it all with your father right there on the podium with you. You can't do any better than that.
"I think of all the years, though, obviously, '91 was the highlight year -- not only career-wise, but family-wise. You know, we set a lot of records that year for the family. A one-two-three finish on the podium in Milwaukee, four Andrettis qualifying for Indianapolis, my brother Jeff winning the rookie of the year honors - - the first time three family members winning that honor. It was just a dream year."
YOUR DAD RETIRED AT 54, YOU RETIRED AT 40. TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT WHAT LED TO THIS END--ALSO, IF YOUR DAD HAD ANY INFLUENCE, EITHER WAY.
"Obviously he didn't have any influence either way; we know what he would've done. First, my father and I are just two totally different people. I had other interests besides driving. Dad's total interest in life was driving a race car. He never had any other outside interests. I always enjoyed, outside of the car, the business-side of it and things like that. He hated it, and that's the difference. That's the reason why I'm in the position that I'm in. I really wanted to look at beyond my driving years, and being involved in the sport. I've said a million times that being in ownership was the best way to do it. I really, really like the business side, so I started pursuing it about five years ago. Barry (Green) and myself had dinner one night, we talked about it and that's where it all started. And, here I am. I was going to try and drive maybe a year or two more, but after dealing with a responsibility of ownership, I just feel like I can't give my driving the 100 percent focus that I need to be competitive, race in and race out. So, I chose to retire and I want to do it here in Indianapolis because I want to have one last, good shot at winning."
COULD YOU REFLECT ON YOUR ONE SEASON OF FORMULA ONE AND DO YOU THINK YOU WERE TREATED FAIRLY?
"I am not going to comment on that except to say that it goes back to what I said that 'some of your worst years are your best years.' Career-wise, obviously it was a disaster. But growing up-wise and maturing-wise, and learning about life-wise, it was priceless. And, that's all I can say. I learned so much about the people and myself, and all that, and to be able to come back to my very first race, back into Indy cars, and to win in Australia was probably another one of my highlights, for sure. Beating out Nigel (Mansell) and all that, and it was a big moment for me."
THINKING ABOUT THE FAMILY AND THE FUTURE, IT'S PRETTY UNUSUAL TO NOT HAVE AN ANDRETTI BEHIND THE WHEEL--WILL WE SEE MARCO AT HIGHER EVENTS?
"Well, who knows? It could be sooner than later. He's doing very well right now, beyond what I thought he could do at this point in his career. He's already winning races, as soon as he got into the race car, which is unbelievable and he's doing good. And, if everything goes with the plan, it could be four or five years, and he could be here and hopefully for us. Like I was saying, I want to be the first owner to say that he has his father and his son driving for him."
DO YOU WISH YOU HAD GIVEN FORMULA ONE ANOTHER TRY THE NEXT YEAR?
"No, I think that was pretty much it. I don't think that anyone would have wanted to hire me after that, the way everything came down.
"It was a real poor situation, and so I knew that that was a done thing. To be honest with you, I didn't really want to drive in Formula One (again) -- whatever it was I just didn't enjoy it. There were some great people -- Ayrton Senna, for one -- he was the best. But, there's other people that I just didn't enjoy. And, I really love racing over here -- the American way. That's the way it is, that's the way that I wanted to end the rest of my career."
MICHAEL, YOU MISSED FIVE OPPORTUNITIES TO WIN HERE BECAUSE OF THE SPLIT BETWEEN IRL AND CART. DO YOU REGRET THAT, LOOKING BACK ON IT?
"Yeah, for sure. They really could have been my five best years of chances of winning the race because we were running with a team that was very strong on ovals in those years. It's a shame. I think that I'm one of the victims that got caught in the middle of the political struggle. It's tough. But then again, that's life; it's just the way it is. I couldn't control it. If you can't control it, then that's just the way it is."
YOUR MOVE TO IRL WAS A BUSINESS DECISION. NOW THAT YOU'VE BEEN INVOLVED FOR THE LAST HALF-YEAR, HAS THAT PERSPECTIVE CHANGED?
"No, I think it has strengthened. Not only was this a business decision, but now it's becoming a personal decision because I really enjoy everybody here. There have great people in the series. I just like the way they operate. They are very fair, they're very good to the competitors, and all I can say is that it's been a pleasure."
NAZARETH HAS BEEN THE ANDRETTI FAMILY HOME SINCE YOUR GRAND-PARENTS CAME OVER AFTER THE WAR--WILL YOU BE MOVING TO INDIANAPOLIS?
"No, I will not. The first thing is, they don't want me here. They don't want me in there (the race shop) everyday. But, second, no -- Nazareth is home. Most of the stuff I am doing is over the phone. I am on the phone a hundred times a day, back and forth, talking with Kevin (Savoree) and Kim (Green). They're the ones running the team, and I don't need to be there for the day-to-day operations of it. I'm very much involved, though. But I don't need to be there every day. I'm there a couple times a month. I fly over and 'crack the whip' a little bit."
YOU HAVE 398 LAPS LED HERE--WAS THERE ONE RACE, LOOKING BACK, THAT YOU THINK YOU SHOULD'VE WON HERE?
"Yeah, I think that's an obvious one -- '92. I think I should've won a lot of them, but '92 there really was no question. There is no question. There was nobody in that race that could run with us. There were times in that race that I was thinking, 'This is too easy. Where is somebody? I'm going to have to race somebody sooner or later.' There was nobody around. The car was so dominant. My quickest lap in the race was like a '229' (229 miles per hour). The next quickest lap was a '225.' It was just incredible. You don't have days like that on any racetrack, let alone, Indianapolis. That was definitely the year that we had it."
HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED AS A DRIVER IN COMPETITION?
"I just want to be remembered as a guy that could win any race I was in. It didn't matter where I started, or what type of racetrack it was, or whatever. I just want to be remembered as, 'You know what? Don't count him out!'"
WHAT YOU THINK THE OWNERS CAN AND SHOULD DO TO HELP BUILD THE FAN BASE?
"Well, I think we have a long road ahead of us, but we're all going in a positive direction. I think the IRL business plan is going in the right direction. I think it's getting the support of the teams and drivers. It's starting to get the best teams and best drivers. Sponsors are coming over and supporting it. Manufacturers are putting huge marketing dollars into it, and you have a great TV package, one that's stable for a long period of time. It has a lot of things going for it. Now, we all just have to go and support it and continue to put on a good show, as well, which we've been able to do. I think with all of that, it is eventually going to turn around. Is it going to take open-wheel racing to come to one series? Probably, for it to really get back to where it was, and I think that's just going to take time. But, I think if you look at the way things are going, and what's happening, it's all going that way."
DO YOU HAVE THE SAME FIRE IN YOUR BELLY THAT YOUR FATHER HAD? AND, CAN YOU SEE YOURSELF COMING BACK?
"The fire -- Dad and myself, the way we motivate each other are two entirely different ways. Dad was motivated for the win, the accolades. He loved it, the passion of it. I was more motivated by the fear of losing. I think that has to do with the way I was brought up. The focus was on me from day one to not fail. I think that's what motivated me was that I didn't want to fail. I was scared to death of failing. I think that was my drive throughout my career, and it always was, which was a shame because in a way, I probably didn't enjoy the wins, and stuff like that as much as my father did because of the way my mental state was. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy racing -- I loved it -- I loved all that and I loved driving and I have the passion for it. But, it was more what was motivating me and part of it was the way I was brought up.
"About coming back -- everyone's asking me that. I'll never say 'never' because you can't say that. But, I wouldn't put any money on it. The odds are highly, highly against it. I'm very motivated to start putting all of my focus into the team. Most drivers when they retire, most athletes when they retire, don't have a back-up plan when they get out. Three or four months later they are like, 'Well what am I going to do? I'm bored.' I'm not going to have that. I'm going to very busy, I'm going to have something to satisfy my competitive urges, still, with the team. I'm still going to get the old adrenaline up with the team. And, so, I really don't see it happening."
IS YOUR DAD GOING TO BE INVOLVED WITH THE TEAM MORE THAN ORIGINALLY PLANNED?
"We hope so. It's getting closer and closer. Him coming and running here at the test just brought him so much closer together with the team.
"And, I think now he feels like he's really part of the team. I think he always felt like he was an outsider because of his political views. But, I think when he saw that everyone just loved him and wanted him to be a part of the team and it isn't all about politics. As much as everyone likes to make our team being about politics -- why we've made this switch -- it was about racing. I don't care what the series. We just wanted to be in the right place for the team and we feel that we are, and it's not about politics. I think Dad is understanding that. We just want him to be there to be apart of it. Throw the politics aside. Who cares? So, I think we're getting to that point and I think Dad is realizing it. He sees that together we are so much stronger, we have so much more fun, and now after that experience, I think he feels that everybody on the team feels that way. He always maybe felt that he was an outsider because of his views. But once he came in I think he saw that, 'You know what? I think these guys really want me to be a part of this thing.' That's the way it is."
WHAT'S IT GOING TO MEAN TO YOU FOR A PENNSYLVANIA OWNER TO WIN THE 500?
"It would be awesome -- great for Pennsylvania. But, I don't even think about that. It would just be an incredible dream. Again, that's another distraction that I don't even think about. It's my last race and I'm thinking about, 'What happens if I win this race? Don't think about it.' I just want to 'stay focused, stay focused,' and that's what I'm doing right now."
YOU AND YOUR FATHER ARE BOTH KNOWN AS GUYS WHO REALLY CHARGED HARD AND RACED HARD WITH THEIR EQUIPMENT--YOUR REACTION TO THAT. AND, NOW THAT YOU'RE A TEAM OWNER, DO YOU SEE A DIFFERENT SIDE OF THAT, AND TO YOUR DRIVING?
"Well, if one compares and you compare me and Dad when we were both in a car, we always gave it everything we had. We were both very aggressive and we both always went for the win, so we're very similar I think in our style of driving, for sure. Do I look at that now differently as a team owner? Absolutely not. That's what I want. I want a winner. I want a guy that wants go out and want a win. And, that's what we have here. I like aggression. Look at Tony [Kanaan], for instance. He goes out there and he stands on it. The second lap, he's flat. He just goes for it. I love that."
SOME OF YOUR MEMORIES AT THIS PLACE ARE "THE ONES THAT GOT AWAY"--WHAT ARE YOUR POSITIVES? WHAT ARE YOUR POSITIVE MEMORIES?
"I hope I'm still waiting for the best one, but the first year here was definitely a highlight -- one of the biggest highlights. Another one that pops in is the family thing in '91. We were all very proud that there were four of us out there. What are the odds of four family members being in the same race like that? Those are years that you will just remember for life."
- AGR -