Another chapter is added to Andrettis' anguish

May 26, 1992|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- Michael Andretti, his face puffy, his eyes ringed in dark circles, showed the signs of a sleepless night at Methodist Hospital.

"The surgeries went very well," Andretti said. "Everything went back together the way it was supposed to."

It is the latest installment in the 23-year history of the Andretti family curse at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Since Mario won the Indy 500 in 1969, there has been no good news for the Andrettis at Indianapolis.

There has been an extraordinary amount of hard luck and misery, so much so that their story has become what many regard as a traditional event.

There have been heartbreaking near-misses, like 1987, when Mario led until his car quit with 20 laps left, and Sunday, when Michael's car outclassed the field until it simply stopped running with 11 laps to go.

But nothing has come close to the overall trauma of Sunday, when Michael watched his father, Mario, and then his brother, Jeff, crash hard into the speedway's walls.

"No question it was the toughest race in my career," Michael said. "I saw Jeff's car and I knew it was bad, because the front end was gone and it had taken so long to get him out. And Dad's looked bad, but at least they told me he was awake and going to be OK. But I never got word on Jeff."

So Michael continued to drive. "I thought, 'I'll win this race and dedicate it to them,' " he said. "And then the car . . . I, I'm still in shock. I still don't think it's sunk in. I'm still numb.

"But at least my family should be OK."

Eventually.

Jeff Andretti, injured in a Turn 2 crash on the 109th lap, underwent lengthy surgery to repair broken bones in both lower legs, ankles and feet. Concussion symptoms have cleared, and he was in fair condition yesterday in the critical care unit.

Mario Andretti, who crashed in Turn 4 on the 78th lap, also underwent surgery Sunday night. Pins were inserted into four broken toes on his left foot and one toe on his right. He also had repair surgery on the outside of his left foot.

Jeff Andretti will miss the rest of the IndyCar season and faces as long as a year of rehabilitation. Mario will miss the series' next race in Detroit on June 7, but could be back for the June 21 race in Portland, Ore.

"We're all kind of bummed out," Michael Andretti said. "Immediately after this race, with all the bad stuff, your immediate reaction is to want to leave this place and never come back. But you know you have to keep trying.

"If I'm here next year, I'll try to win it. If I'm in Europe [driving Formula One], I'm in Europe. But I'm not going to let it affect me."

Tomorrow, Michael Andretti will be in Milwaukee testing his race car,trying to get back in the groove.

"I've always looked at Indy this way," Michael said. "If it happens, it would be a bonus.

"I've never thought of it as being my whole career -- and I'm glad that's how I think about it. If I win, great. If I don't, I don't."

NOTES: Eddie Cheever, who was penalized a lap for passing under a yellow flag when Al Unser Jr. reported the infraction, was moved from sixth to fourth in the final standings yesterday. "We restored his lap, because the two drivers he passed [John Andretti and Raul Boesel] came to us and said they waved him past," said chief steward Tom Binford. The change in scoring also advanced A.J. Foyt from 10th to ninth and moved John Paul Jr. from ninth to 10th. . . . Lyn St. James, only the second woman to compete in the Indy 500, was named Rookie of the Year. She was the highest-finishing rookie in Sunday's race, in 11th place, and the only rookie still running at the end of the race. . . . Rookie Jimmy Vasser underwent surgery to repair his broken right thigh Sunday night. He is in good condition.

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