J. Andretti makes federal case out of his family's love for flag


March 14, 2004|By SANDRA McKEE

NASCAR is known for wrapping itself in the American flag. You can hardly go to a race without being overwhelmed by patriotism -- flags waving, fighter jets roaring overhead, military salutes in front of the grandstands, even visits by presidents of the United States.

So, when word came that Nextel Cup driver John Andretti was being included on a panel that would speak to the U.S. Senate's Committee on the Judiciary, it seemed certain to be another ploy to gather NASCAR Dads in support of President Bush's re-election campaign.

Andretti was a member of a panel that would give opinions and answer questions about Senate Joint Resolution 4, "Letting The People Decide: The Constitutional Amendment Authorizing Congress To Prohibit Physical Desecration of the Flag of the United States."

Andretti spoke, encouraging the senate committee to advance the measure.

After Andretti's visit to Capitol Hill, he acknowledged that he was definitely "the guy out of his element."

He said he saw that "everything that goes on there is political and in your face." But he added that he wouldn't have traded the experience.

He is, he agreed, a NASCAR Dad, a member of an identified voting bloc that is being heavily courted by politicians in the coming presidential election, but said he thinks that is a label that can be twisted many ways.

"My own hope is that NASCAR Dads isn't all about party but about people supporting the people they think will do the best job," he said. "I hope it's just not voting for a party or for someone told them to vote for. I was here because I believe in the amendment and have a passion for our flag. ... If we can't protect it, what can we protect?"

The appearance wasn't set up by NASCAR. It came through a circuitous route that began with the American Legion and wound up seeing him joined in Washington by Rollie Helmling, president of the U.S. Auto Club.

During Andretti's presentation Wednesday, he told the committee, "By the end of World War II, my father's family had lost everything. He and his [twin] brother grew up in a relocation camp in eastern Italy, living there from the time they were 8 years old until they were 16. They came to the United States at that point, a land of freedom and opportunity. And I am proud to say they made the most of it.

"Sometimes he has a hard time describing it because of the emotion, but my father has told me about seeing that flag of the United States -- first, when liberated in his native Italy and, later, when `liberated' into a new life for him and his family. The flag of the United States represented goodness and freedom and that is a lesson he taught to his children -- and a lesson I am teaching to my children."

During a phone interview after his testimony, Andretti, who is the son of Aldo Andretti and the nephew of Mario Andretti, said he spoke with his father about his experiences in Washington and found him full of emotion.

"I spent a long time on the phone with my father," John Andretti said. "He was so proud and excited. He wouldn't have been that proud if I'd won any race."

Today, Andretti is in Atlanta for the Golden Corral 500 Nextel Cup race, back in his role of race car driver. But when the flag is unfurled, Andretti said he will see more than cloth.

Mohler psyched

Scott Mohler, the Frederick native who won the All Motor division championship in the National Hot Rod Association Summit Sport Compact Drag Racing Series, is ready to go after it again.

"The main focus this year is defending that title," said Mohler, 27. "Win a championship -- that's the plan. We'll settle for nothing less. It's not going to be easy, though. We've got some stiff competitors, which will make for some great racing."

The series begins this weekend at California Dragway in Fontana, Calif.

Last fall at Englishtown, N.J., Mohler set the All Motor speed record at 135.89 mph in his Dodge Neon. He remains the only All Motor competitor to eclipse the 135 mph mark.

Ambitious designs

The Champ Car World Series (CCWS) is getting ready for its first year in a big way.

The Series, formerly known as The Championship Auto Racing Series, CART, was bought by Paul Gentilozzi and several partners after it declared bankruptcy after last season.

Though this season was in doubt until a month ago, CCWS has announced an ambitious 16-event card that will take drivers to five countries and three continents. It has also revealed a new "push-to-pass" system that with the push of a button will give the cars' Ford-Cosworth XFE racing engines an extra 50 horsepower to use per pass.

The drivers will have the ability to use the increased boost for 60 seconds per race, a time estimated to be equivalent to five applications on the average main straightaway of a Champ Car circuit.

"We wanted to give our drivers more of an opportunity to make passes and compete for position, and we think this will play a key role in that," said Champ Car technical director Lee Dykstra.

The series opens April 18 in the long-popular event at Long Beach, Calif. Here is the rest of the schedule: May 23, Monterrey, Mexico; June 5, The Milwaukee Mile; June 20, Portland, Ore.; July 3, Cleveland; July 11, Toronto; July 25, Vancouver, Canada; Aug. 8, Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis.; Aug. 15, Denver; Aug. 29, Montreal; Sept. 12, Laguna Seca, Calif.; September (place and date TBA); Oct. 17, Seoul, South Korea; Oct. 24, Surfers Paradise, Australia; Nov. 7, Mexico City; and November, (place and date TBA).

The series will be carried Sunday afternoons on Spike TV.

Nuts and bolts

The small block modifieds and the modified lite cars are to make their first appearance at Hagerstown Speedway next Sunday. They will be joined by the late models for a triple-header program. Race time is 1:30 p.m. Gates open at 11 a.m.

Speed Channel will carry all 12 Hours of Sebring live beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday.

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