Winning is only Indy name this Andretti cares about

May 21, 1992|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- John Andretti is a fresh-faced 29-year-old who is not overcome by the family curse. The Andretti Curse.

He is Mario Andretti's nephew.

Michael Andretti's cousin.

But this Andretti is more challenged than intimidated.

"I want to be the next Andretti to win the Indianapolis 500," he said. "But that's not because I'm an Andretti. It's because I'm a racer and I'd want to win this race no matter what my name was. It's my dream."

Many followers of IndyCar racing may doubt the possibility of that dream. After all, Uncle Mario has 51 IndyCar victories, plus championships in both IndyCars and Formula One, but he has only one Indianapolis 500 win [1969] in his 29-year career.

Cousin Michael, who has 22 victories and an IndyCar championship in a 10-year career, has yet to win here.

Every year, the Andretti curse seems to grow. Every year one of them seems about to win the Indianapolis 500, only to have their cars meet misfortune.

So when John Andretti, who has one victory in 56 IndyCar starts over six years, sat down yesterday and said he believes he can win the Indianapolis 500, he knew exactly how it sounded.

He too has been affected by the family's propensity for adversity.

"I truly believe we can win it," said Andretti, who drives the Pennzoil Lola Chevy-A that will start in the middle of the fifth row Sunday. "If no one else believes it, I don't really care."

He can run down a list of reasons why he has a chance: He is with a solid team, he is driving the chassis of choice, and he is running with the Chevy engine, the one known reliable engine in the field.

"From the equipment standpoint, we have the right stuff," he said. "But I don't want to sit here and convince you. I want to go out and prove it to you."

John Andretti is a man of many sides. He is strong and exuberant when talking about his race car. He is humorous when asked about his family and whether his style is the aggressive style of his uncle and cousin.

"Given their history here at the Speedway, I'd like to think I'm more like Rick Mears," he quipped. "John Mears, that's my name."

But when he talks about his father, Mario's twin brother Aldo, John Andretti's emotions rise to the surface and his voice cracks.

"My father should be here racing," said John. "I'd give up my whole career if it meant he could be here instead of me."

While Mario Andretti raced with success on every circuit he ever tried, Aldo suffered two brutal crashes as a young man that cost him his racing career and nearly his life.

Sometimes, when John Andretti starts to feel frustrated by disappointments, he sees his father and thinks again.

"I guess you have to think back to the first time I qualified here [1988] to understand," he said. "On my first qualifying attempt I broke the engine. The second time out, I lost a clamp and all the boost. The third time, on the last day, I was in line and the car wouldn't start."

John Andretti rolls his eyes. Yes, he knows how the Andretti curse works.

"Finally, on the fourth try, I was almost bitter," he said. "I wanted to be the fastest rookie, but because of the situation, we had to just make sure the car would run four laps to get us into the field. We made it, but I came into the pits really disappointed.

"Oh, I was happy to be in the race, but my overriding thoughts were about not being fastest. And then, there in front of me was my dad. He was all smiles. He was so proud of me. It reminded me that what I had shouldn't be taken for granted."

That year, John Andretti finished 21st, one spot behind his uncle. Both were sidelined because of engine failure.

"My Uncle Mario told me to do exactly what he did," John said after the race.

"I didn't think he'd take me quite so literally," responded Mario, hugging his nephew.

A year ago, the Andretti curse seemed to latch on to John Andretti again. He lost two laps, when the pace car twice picked up the wrong leader after a caution flag.

While his cousin Michael was finishing second to Mears, John Andretti came home a solid fifth.

"Our luck hasn't always been the best here," said John Andretti. "But I think luck changes, that you can make it change. Sunday, I'll be out there and I'll be trying to get to the front."

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