Considered to be one of the most successful racers in history, Mario Andretti’s roots and early life as a refugee in his own country likely contributed to his winning attitude in life and to his determination. Today, the Andretti brand extends well beyond racing. Andretti has a winery, a petroleum business, and it’s no surprise, a growing global motorsports presence. Andretti’s intense drive to be victorious in life and on the racetrack demonstrates how resilience is key to keeping his motor fine-tuned and his brand vibrant.
This podcast showcases Andretti from his roots to his racing as he openly shares how complications are part of life and that negatives often result in positive outcomes. There are so many interesting facets of this racing legend that contribute to his drive and perseverance today.
Andretti recalls he and his twin brother Aldo were 7 or 8 years old at the time the family was forced to move to the refugee camp. He shares, as they grew up together, they “had pretty much the same goals, same ideas, and the same passions.” He explains the hard decisions his father had to make and why it was such a sacrifice to move the family from Lucca to the United States. He reminisces a bit about the seven years in a refugee camp and how its location may have played a critical role in shaping the Mario Andretti the world knows today.
It must have been such a big change coming to America through the New York Harbor and ending up in Nazareth, PA, where you built your first race car. What was that like?
Nazareth is where I live right now, today. I’m the only one in the family that actually remained here. And I married a local lady, a wonderful lady, Dee Ann, and we raised our family here. And so, we arrived here at [the age of] 15. We discovered a track … It was something very different from what we had visualized, but it looked very doable. So, two years later we decided, “You know what? If we’re going to start racing, we’d better start now.” So, at the age of 17, we started building a race car.
He goes on to share stories of friendships and a risky bank loan that was co-signed by a friend to help two 19-year-olds who legally should not be racing professionally. His story is funny and poignant, showcasing his naivete at the time and the risk and competitive nature that are still clearly part of his DNA today. In the podcast, he does not shy away from speaking about the dangers of racing including details of incidents that without a doubt changed his life and likely contributed to his tenacity. In addition, he talks about the business of motorsports, growth, and the future of Andretti Global.
What are your thoughts on simulated (sim) racing?
Well, sim racing, is a system that’s very valuable and I think it cuts back a lot of unknown potential testing as far as learning a circuit. It’s as close as you’re going to come to the real thing, obviously. It has its place, no question. Every major team has a simulator to be able to do basic setups, and then you prove in real-time. So, simulators are a wonderful tool today to arm yourself with.
There’s nothing better than getting a taste of something where you can make a mistake and not pay dearly for it, even as a driver. Sometimes if the drivers have to deal with a brand-new venue they’ve never seen or had the opportunity to really ride on … in a simulator environment [they can] try it. It’s something that’s very used today by every major team. So, it’s a technology that obviously is in very good use right now.
You’re so competitive and don’t settle for mediocrity for yourself or for others. Where does this intense drive come from?
I don’t know where it comes from. It’s just that if you’re driven, you’re driven about something. I’m competitive, yes, because you derive satisfaction if you win something. And if you’re not competitive, that means you’re blasé; nothing really matters to you. It’s not just racing. We have businesses, and you want to be able to thrive with your businesses and get the best out of everyone. … I never thought there was anything wrong with being competitive. I think it keeps you engaged… And that’s what I like. I like to get up in the morning, and [thinking], “You know what? I’ve got stuff to do. I have things to do and look forward to creating something or just doing something with yourself.”
What is your secret to health and wellness?
As we all know, health is everything. If you don’t have health, you have nothing. And I try to take care of myself in the best way that I think possible. (He shares humorous stories about his daughter helping him to eat well admitting that sometimes he must seek confession after eating things that were probably not so healthy.)
This interview showcases Andretti’s highs and lows as well as tragedies including the loss of his wife, his twin brother Aldo, as well losses at the racetrack. He also shares stories about his racing family, including two consecutive years (1991 and ’92) when four members of the Andretti family qualified at Indy. This is a feat that has never happened before or since. In addition, he shares there are a total of eight race car drivers representing three generations in the Andretti family. Mario proudly says, “We live and breathe and have a very powerful fuel going through our veins.”
Andretti enthusiastically shares that he was recently piloting a Formula One car, and also drives a two-seater at IndyCar Series races. He says, “I’ve got my feet in it at this stage of my life. So, you can see I still have a little bit of an itch to scratch now and then.”
In a fun lightning round of questions, we learn about his favorite book, movie, and opera singers. In addition, he casually chats about his pet, how a race car driver might feel when driving on the streets, as well as what it’s like to deliver Meals on Wheels.
Mario Andretti is a legendary racing icon who is full of good humor, common sense, and tenacity that could be of benefit to us all. Start your engines for this compelling conversation and a gift that will keep on giving.