John Andretti eager to start long journey

May 27, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS -- John Andretti can rest today, which might not seem like a big deal to a lot of people. But to Andretti, who has been the ultimate jet-setter this month and a man who plans to drive 1,100 miles Sunday, it is indeed a big deal.

"Sometimes, it's hard to see the end of the road," he says. "But we're almost home."

Sunday, at 11 a.m. he will strap himself into his A.J. Foyt/Jonathan Byrd-owned Lola/Ford, and set off to drive in the Indianapolis 500.

When it's over, he'll helicopter to nearby Eagle Creek Airpark for a private, 53-minute flight to Concord, N.C. Once there, he will get in another helicopter and hop over to Charlotte Motor Speedway and slip into Billy Hagan's Bryant Heating Lumina to take the 5 p.m. green flag in the Winston Cup Coca Cola 600 stock car race. All of which will make him the first man to drive IndyCar's biggest race and NASCAR's longest race in the same day.

Why? Maybe because Andretti is the son of Aldo Andretti, the nephew of Mario Andretti and the cousin of Michael Andretti -- and they never passed up a racing opportunity either.

"This is easy compared to what I used to do in college," said John, who went to Moravian College in eastern Pennsylvania. "I'd go to college full time and still race 80 races a year. So this isn't a publicity stunt. [In college] I'd drive 1,500 miles round trip on a weekend, just to get to and from the race track.

"Nobody wrote about it then, but if you don't believe me, ask the people who traveled with me. I did it, and did it for three years. This is only one month and it's a piece of cake compared to that."

Over the past month, John Andretti has qualified and raced in the Winston Cup race at Sonoma, Calif., practiced and qualified for Sunday's Indy 500 and practiced and qualified for Sunday's Coca Cola 600.

"There has been some anxiety," said Andretti, 31. "Like what would happen if we didn't get the Indy car qualified on the first day? What would happen, if I wasn't among the top 30 qualifiers at Charlotte?"

As it turned out, Andretti qualified impressively for both races. His Indy car will start on the inside of Row 4. His stock car qualified on the inside of row 5. But there is a hitch, and Andretti probably will start at the back of the 600 field.

NASCAR official Kevin Triplett said yesterday, that if Andretti is unable to attend the mandatory 2 p.m. drivers meeting -- which would be out of the question, barring an early exit from Indy -- he will have to start at the back of the field, according to NASCAR rules.

"There are no exceptions," Triplett said.

Andretti said there have been times this month when he has second-guessed himself, but not now.

"One way or the other, it's all working out," he said.

Yesterday, Andretti put his Indy Car through the last two-hour practice session before the 500 and ran a 213.585, 11 mph off his top speed.

But yesterday, every driver on the track, with their cars set up for the race rather than qualifying, were slower. Pole sitter Al Unser Jr., who clocked 228 mph pole day, ran only 218 yesterday.

As long as the 500 doesn't turn into a demolition derby -- and as long as Andretti doesn't win it -- he believes he should arrive in Charlotte with 20 to 40 minutes to spare.

"We've got contingency plans," Andretti said. "One, for if I don't make it to Charlotte in time, [or] if I can't finish the full 600 miles. We'll have a relief driver."

"I don't think it's going to be a problem," Andretti says. "I know it's going to be real demanding. No question about it, but the idea I'm going to be putting other people in jeopardy is something I will never do."

To ensure his own health and stamina, Andretti said the plane from Indy to Charlotte will be cold and will have a nurse and registered dietitian on board to make sure he gets the proper liquids.

When Mario Andretti, who in May 1978 zipped back and forth from France for practice and qualifying and ran both the Formula One race in Monte Carlo and the Indy 500, grinned happily when asked about John's marathon run.

"That's my boy," he said. "He's a pure racer. Pure racers run whenever they have the chance."

A. J. Foyt, another pure racer who is not always known for his patience, has taken his driver's dual role in stride.

"I get him first," Foyt said, showing his practicality.

Although everyone looks at the Indianapolis 500 as one of the most difficult races in the world to run, Andretti said learning to be competitive on the Winston Cup circuit has been "the hardest thing I've ever done." He also said he is getting a lot of support from his fellow Winston Cup drivers.

"Those guys come up and ask me what's going on at Indy," Andretti said. "It's fun for them, because they know someone who is actually racing here. And it's fun for me, because it gives me something to talk about with them that I actually know something about."

RACE FACTS

Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

When: Sunday, noon

TV: Channels 13, 7

Pole sitter: Al Unser Jr., 228.011 mph

Defending champion: Emerson Fittipaldi

Past winners in field: Five -- Fittipaldi (1989, 1993); Al Unser Jr. (1992); Arie Luyendyk (1990); Mario Andretti (1969); and Bobby Rahal (1986)

Rookies: Nine -- Jacques Villeneuve, Hideshi Matsuda, Dennis Vitolo, Scott Sharp, Brian Till, Bryan Herta, Adrian Fernandez, Mauricio Gugelmin and Marco Greco

Best bets: Unser Jr., Raul Boesel, Fittipaldi, Nigel Mansell, Mario Andretti

Long shots: Paul Tracy, Bobby Rahal and Eddie Cheever

Records: Fastest single lap in 1992 by Michael Andretti, 229.118 mph; Fastest race 1990, Arie Luyendyk averaged 185.981 mph

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