Buddy Fortunato, Publisher of the Italian Tribune is pleased to announce that Mario Andretti will be receive the Publisher’s Award at the 49th Annual Columbus Day Awards Gala on Friday, October 11, 2019 at the Birchwood Manor in Whippany, New Jersey. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Mario’s historic victory in the Indianapolis 500. Please join us at the dinner as we honor one of the most celebrated drivers in the history of motorsports.
Mario Andretti was born in Montona, Istria, then part of the Kingdom of Italy and both he and his twin brother Aldo were captivated by racing cars from an early age. When the war ended, the peninsula of Istria became part of Yugoslavia. After three years under communist rule, the Andretti family was finally able to move back to Italy, but times were very difficult in the immediate post-war years. From 1948 to 1955, the Andretti’s lived in a refugee camp in Lucca, Tuscany, sharing a single room with other families. Despite the hardships, in 1954, Mario and Aldo had the chance to see the Italian Grand Prix at Monza and the dream of motor racing seemed closer than ever for the 14 year old boys. In 1955, the Andretti family emigrated to the U.S., settling in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The boys were delighted to find that the town contained a half mile dirt track.
Mario began racing (and winning) just after high school and continued in the sport for the better part of the next four decades, becoming one of the most successful Americans in the history of the motorsport. He is one of only two drivers to have won races in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship and NASCAR (the other being his friend, the late Dan Gurney). Mario also won races in midget cars and sprint cars.
During his career, Andretti won the 1978 Formula One World Championship, four IndyCar titles and the International Race of Champions Series. To date, he remains the only driver ever to win the Indianapolis 500 (1969), Daytona 500 (1967) and the Formula One World Championship. Mario had 109 career wins on major circuits and is the only person to be named United States Driver of the Year in three decades (1967, 1978 and 1984). He was also one of only three drivers to have won major races on road courses, paved ovals and dirt tracks in one season, but it is a feat that he accomplished four times. With his final IndyCar win in April 1993, Andretti became the first driver to have won IndyCar races in four different decades and the first to win automobile races of any kind in five decades. He competed in the Indianapolis 500 each year from 1965 through 1994.
On one hand, assessing his legacy is easy. He drove with a passion and joy that few have equaled – and he won. His skills were remarkable; he would flatter a poor car, turning in times that no other driver could approach in the race. He would get into a marginal car and soon determine what was needed to make the car competitive. When he drove a competitive car, Mario turned it into a winner.
Yet, beyond statistics, fans of the sport realized just how remarkable his career was. In every form of motorsport, Mario won. Driving a car on a high speed oval is an art form and there is a huge difference between driving an open-wheel car and a stock car on those circuits and very few have been successful at both. Yet, in 1967, Mario’s passion for racing saw him win the Daytona 500 stock car, the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance sports car race and claim his second pole at the Indy 500!
He won in short sprint races and 24-hour endurance races. He won in the United States and abroad. Even when racing outside his numerous specialties, Mario won. He won everything that he competed in, from drag races to the Pikes Peak Hillclimb. This year marks the 50th anniversary of his win at Indianapolis, a track where in his own words, the relationship has been…tumultuous. In 1969, he entered the month of May as a favorite at the historic track, but he crashed his primary car during practice. Suffering from painful facial burns, Mario was able to qualify in his back-up car for the middle of the front row. In the race, he led for 116 laps, including the most important one, lap 200 – the last lap, winning the fastest run Indianapolis 500 up to that date.
Mario is one of those few people who could drive the wheels off any car. He learned his craft on the dirt track and then added to his resume on oval tracks, in what at the time were called Champ Cars and also in stock cars. Then there was the traveling circus known as Formula One – the pinnacle of motorsport. Mario placed his car on pole in his first race, causing more than a few jaws to drop. He won in his first time out driving for Ferrari, while competing part-time in the series and racing on both sides of the Atlantic. He was the fastest man on the circuit in 1977, winning more races than any other driver, but his car let him down, causing almost as many retirements as finishes. That changed the following year when he dominated the championship, driving the Lotus 79. It was a beautiful car and Mario made it look easy.
Mario is also the patriarch of a racing dynasty. Both of his sons, Michael and Jeff, became racers. Michael followed in his father’s footsteps by winning the IndyCar title, with Mario’s nephew joining the series in 1988, making the Andrettis the first family to have four relatives compete in the same series. Mario’s grandson Marco joined the Indy Racing League (IRL) in 2006, driving for his father Michael’s Andretti Green Racing team. Marco finished second in the Indianapolis 500 that year, winning the Rookie of the Year Award, as had his grandfather and father before him.
In 1986, Mario was inducted into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame. In 2000, the Associated Press and RACER magazine named him Driver of the Century. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2001; the U.S. National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 1996; the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1990; the Hoosier Auto Racing Hall of Fame in 1970 and the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2005.
On October 23, 2006, Mario was awarded the highest civilian honor bestowed by the Italian government, the Commendatore dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana (known as the Commendatore), in honor of his racing career, public service and enduring commitment to his Italian heritage. Enzo Ferrari is the only other recipient of the Commendatore from the world of automobile racing.
In 2007, Mario was honored with the “Lombardi Award of Excellence” from the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation. The award was created to honor Coach Lombardi’s legacy and is awarded annually to an individual who exemplifies the spirit of the Coach. In 2008, he was awarded with the Simeone Foundation Spirit of Competition Award. Since 2012, Mario has been the official ambassador for the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) and the United States Grand Prix promoting awareness of Formula 1 in the United States and all forms of motorsports at the circuit. To summarize, not only a racing icon, Mario Andretti is considered by many to be the greatest race car driver in the history of the sport and the Italian Tribune is honored to present him with the 2019 Publisher’s Award.