The Guest Mailbag with Mario Andretti, presented by HPD

Image by Andre/Motorsport Images

The Guest Mailbag with Mario Andretti, presented by HPD

Insights & Analysis

The Guest Mailbag with Mario Andretti, presented by HPD


Q: Can you share some memories of Carl Hass and Paul Newman?

Long Beach, CA

MA: Paul Newman loved to make ridiculous bets. He called me to bet $1.72 on the Super Bowl, or 15,349 Italian lire on the World Series, or two million Russian rubles on the U.S. Open. And he’d deliver the goods; I still have those rubles. He took time for nonsense. He came to my house once driving an older model, very nondescript Volvo station wagon. A car couldn’t be any more ordinary than that. Funny thing was, he had a 600-horsepower turbocharged engine stuffed in it. I laughed so hard. Imagine being in the car next to him at the stop light – and Paul blasting away in that thing. He was a colorful character. Bigger than life, but also trying to be extraordinarily ordinary. Wanting to be just one of the guys.

A memory about Carl Haas is that before every race when we were on the grid, he blessed my race car. Of course it was irrational that him blessing my car would bring me luck. But it came from a very sincere place. It was Carl’s superstition that if he blessed the car I would have a good race.

Q: I was fortunate to attend a few IndyCar races at Nazareth Speedway a few times. Did you and or Michael ever think about purchasing and saving it? And could you tell us a good Paul Newman story that no one knows about?   

West Chester, Oh

MA: I never thought of buying Nazareth Speedway. It simply would not have been a good business investment. My heart was there, but the reality of the business investment did not support that idea. Paul Newman was in love with life. He could do anything. He could act. He could race cars. He could raise millions of dollars for charity. He was funny. He was so famous, but he just liked being ordinary. He liked to be just one of the guys in pit lane.

Q: When you think of Nazareth Speedway, what memories come to mind?  Realizing that it’s too late now, did you ever think of putting together a group to save the track after it closed? Do you think the track might have survived had the CART/IndyCar split not happened?  With Pocono off the IndyCar schedule, the Lehigh Valley and eastern PA misses Nazareth more than ever.

Jon Blitzer
Allentown, PA

MA: I have fond memories of both Nazareth tracks! The Nazareth half-mile dirt track was the first race track I ever raced on – and won in 1959. I also won in 1969 at Nazareth Speedway, the mile track, when it was dirt. And later, Michael won there after it was paved. Having race tracks practically in your backyard was wonderful. I never considered organizing any type of “save Nazareth Speedway” effort after it closed. My plate was full. I think it might have survived if there hadn’t been a split, but we’ll never know. The split caused tremendous damage because people stopped supporting the series.

“I’ll bet you 11,472 yen that you can’t hit Robin Miller with a spitball from here”. Image by Boyd/Motorsport Images

Q: Most sincere thanks for being all you are to our series. I have seen articles about how passionate you are concerning the removal of Pocono from the series schedule. Are you continuing efforts to be a catalyst to move the series to return to Pocono? I truly feel that, if the event is marketed correctly/effectively it can be a jewel in the series schedule.

Thank you,
Alan, Harrisburg, PA

MA: Yes, I continue to be a catalyst for IndyCars to return to Pocono. I have been a very vocal proponent of the idea.

Q: If that had been Michael instead of Danny Sullivan, would you have given him the inside and then pinched him down like that? 99 times out of 100, Danny’s car should have been on a wrecker, not in Victory Lane!

Damon Hynes

MA: It was at Indianapolis in 1985. I probably would not have pinched Michael, but I didn’t pinch Danny either. I held my line and he went pretty deep. That said… I probably would have given Michael more room.

Q: Let me thank you for being such an ambassador for the sport we love. I’ve collected Johnny Lightning, Hot Wheels and Minichamp versions of your famous race cars. In “Drive Like Andretti”, you hold up the JL replica of your ’69 Indy winner that was taken into space. That toy car and the photocard package the toy cars come with show the extra radiator Clint Brawner mounted behind the radiator after qualifying that Chief Steward Harlen Fengler forced Brawner to remove. (The Hot Wheels version looks more like what you won with.)

The night before the race, Brawner put an additional radiator under your seat. The motor doesn’t blow up. The stuck right rear tire holds all through the race, and you win… Brawner claimed it wasn’t illegal and that you didn’t even know it was there. So, did you know, or do the facts get in the way of a great story?

David Parker

MA: The radiator behind the seat was legal because it did not change the profile of the car. That was part of the regulations at the time. And yes, I certainly knew it was there.

Q: You are known to have worked behind the scenes to stop the split. Was there any moment early on when you felt the entire thing could have been stopped before it did so much damage to our beloved sport?

On a lighter note, you have driven all of the classic generations of IndyCars, from ‘60s all the way until the ‘90s. Which cars were more mentally draining to drive at Indy: the slower, but possibly more dangerous ‘60s and ‘70s cars, or far faster, but safer, ‘80s and ‘90s cars?

Thank you so much for answering our questions!

Filip Godlewski
The Hague, Netherlands

MA: Even early on, it was impossible to change Tony George’s mind. There was nothing going to stand in his way. Which cars were more mentally draining? That’s a good question. No matter the era, the driver’s job is to take whatever car you’re in to the limit. The mentally draining aspect is about that, regardless of the era. Whether I was driving in the ‘60s or the ‘90s, it was always about taking the car to the limit. It wasn’t more mentally draining in the ‘60s and less in the ‘90s. It’s always the same.