Mario Andretti is an Icon; Mario Andretti’s legacy is easy… He drove the careers of three men.
He drove with a passion and joy that few have equaled… and he won. Mario Andretti took the checkered flag 111 times during his career, one that stretched five decades.
He was named driver of the year, driver of the quarter century and driver of the century in year 2000. Mario retired from driving in 1991. Now a successful businessman off the track, he serves as spokesman, associate and friend to top executives around the world. He owns a winery in Napa, and a racing school but is dedicating his experience and time to educating teens about safe driving.
His career has been magnified and glamorized. Yet, if you look at his whole life, he has seen the world that most people will never see. It is the journey he has made that has made him a very rich man.
He was born in Montaona Italy about the time World War II broke out. When the war ended the Andretti’s found themselves trapped inside a Communist country. When they finally were able to leave they did so with nothing, all had to be left behind. For seven years the family lived in one room shared with other families in a refugee camp in Lucca, Italy waiting for a visa for the United States. In l955 the Andretti family of five left for the United Sates and they settled in Nazareth, Pennsylvania where Mario and his family still live today. The Andretti’s had 125.00 to their names and could not speak English.
Mario and his twin brother Aldo were l5 and sad to leave Italy. As fate would have it their home in Pennsylvania was near a dirt track and Mario and Aldo decided to learn how to race. They learned how to build a car they could race and alternated days on the track. Not only did they race, they won… one race after the other.
The rest is history they say and there is plenty more including his son Michael and grandson Marco following in his footsteps. A proud and gracious man who shares his talents with many shared some of his thoughts with us…
Q: If your family had not come to the United States, how different would your life have been?
Mario: So different, I’m living the American Dream. There is no question in my mind that had my father not wanted to move to the United States, I would never have been able to fulfill my dreams. My twin brother and I loved to watch racing in our town, my idol was Alberto Ascari. I would dream about racing but never did I think I would someday have the opportunity, I have been so blessed.
Q: What do you think has been the key to your success and longevity in both racing and business?
Mario: Passion for what you do and teamwork. If you love what you do, it is never a chore. If you work as a team weather it is in sports, business or even a family, you will succeed. This is a strong message that I deliver and use in my business today. When you work as a team everyone brings something different each has an ingredient to contribute to the results. My pit crew is the reason I was successful in racing and everyone I work with today in other aspects of my life are the ingredients that make me successful. I am married 46 years to my wife and her support and my families teamwork made me what I am today, a happy man. There is no way to move forward without teamwork with a capital “T”.
Q: You’ve given so much to people with your racing career, I see that you are traveling around the country to talk about safety for teen drivers, why is that so important to you?
Mario: I’ve been so blessed during my racing career to be associated with Firestone tires. I’ve also been very careful and respectful of cars in my line of work.
I talk to teens in High Schools around the country fully endorsing driver’s education programs in and out of the school setting. I don’t believe that most states have a strong enough program for teen drivers. There is no discipline on the road; I want to talk to young drivers about developing proper driving habits early on so they can become safe coconscious drivers as they mature. I commend Firestone for standing behind me with this program. If I saved but one life out of the thousands of students I see all year, it has all been worth it.
Q: What other projects are you working on since you retired racing? How do you spend your free time?
Mario: Well I have a racing school open to the public where you can experience the kind of racing I was involved in around the track, a winery in Napa and I speak to businesses and communities around the world. I like to visit companies in their towns and meet their customers and friends. I enjoy my children and grandchildren and I like to listen to opera and visit the winery in Napa to relax. I still live in Pennsylvania where it’s quiet and beautiful and I was able to build the house of my dreams. I will never leave there.
This is the best time of my life; I am a very luck man in many ways.
Q: You had a voice only part in the movie “Cars” with your long time friend Paul Newman, did you enjoy that?
Mario: Paul and I have been friends for many years, my part was very easy, and he’s the actor.
Q: If a TV show was made of your life would it be a drama, adventure or reality show?
Mario: Laughing… all three