Andrettis make Indy family affair Mario leads 2 sons and nephew in race

May 25, 1991|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,The Evening Sun

INDIANAPOLIS -- When it comes to his family, there is no doubt Mario Andretti is a worrywart.

Just ask him.

"At times," said Andretti, whose two sons and nephew will also start in tomorrow's Indianapolis 500, "I've been embarrassing."

How embarrassing?

Once, at the Sports Car Club of America runoffs in Atlanta, Andretti recalled, "Michael and Mike Roe were getting into it on the track more than they should. Michael was probably doing as much or more to Roe as Roe was doing to Michael, but all I could see was Roe getting out of line."

When the cars pitted, Mario Andretti looked for Roe.

"Well, I almost came to blows with Mike Roe," Andretti said. "And then Michael came up and said, 'Dad, you're embarrassing me.' "

And then there was the SCCA race in West Palm Beach, Fla. It started to rain and Mario knew the racing surface was getting exceedingly slippery. Michael was running fourth when Mario headed for the race officials' booth.

"I roared in screaming, 'You murderers, stop this race!' They turned, looked at me, and said, 'Shut up, Michael's leading.'

"I have come to understand what my wife Dee Ann goes through," the 1969 Indy champion said. "I'm not a very good spectator, and I sympathize with her."

Andretti, 51, won't be on the sidelines tomorrow, when he, sons Michael, 28, and Jeff, 27, and nephew John, 28, make Indianapolis 500 history as the first family to have so many members in this race at the same time.

A year ago, when Jeff was bumped from the qualifying field in the closing minutes, the family was tied with Don, Bill and Dale Whittington, three brothers who started the 500 in 1982.

Now, they stand alone. And they have the first four rows of the field covered.

Mario is on the outside of the front row. Michael is in the middle of Row 2. Jeff, the son of Mario's twin brother Aldo, is inside on Row 3. And Jeff is in the middle of Row 4.

"I never thought it would come to this," Mario said. "When it was just Michael, it wasn't too bad. I could kind of watch out for him. Now, it's like the lottery, trying to keep all their car numbers in my head.

Michael is talking of moving on to Formula One cars in Europe next year, Mario is talking about perhaps having two more years left in a career that has included Indy car and Formula One championships. "I'm 51, I've never been 52 and I don't know what happens when you get to be 53," he said.

But, John said jokingly, "He'll probably still be here when Michael's son Marco [age 4] is ready to race here."

Mario laughed.

"Maybe," he said.

John voiced interest in Formula One and Winston Cup stock-car racing. When Mario leaned over and whispered something in his ear, John said with a laugh, "I can too reach the pedals."

The Andrettis may be short on height -- Michael is the tallest at 5 feet 7, and Mario, John and Jeff are 5-6 -- but they are big on talent.

Mario has won everything there is to win -- the Daytona 500, the Indy 500, the 12 Hours of Sebring, four Indy-car championships and more.

Michael is already eighth on the all-time earnings list with $5,832,197, and his past 78 starts have produced 14 victories and 12 poles. Included among the wins are two victories at the Michigan 500. He has finished second three times in the Indy-car championship point race.

John qualified for his first Indy 500 last year and, in 38 starts during the past four years, he has 12 top-10 finishes.

As for Jeff, the rookie in the crowd, this is only his second Indy-car start of any kind.

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