The RACER.com Guest Mailbag with Mario Andretti, presented by HPD

Image by Andre/Motorsport Images

The RACER.com Guest Mailbag with Mario Andretti, presented by HPD

Insights & Analysis

The RACER.com Guest Mailbag with Mario Andretti, presented by HPD

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Q: Thank you for your career! I truly believe you are the greatest driver of all time. You won three midget Main events in one day, and your midget was renamed 3N1. There is little about that in the books and for that matter, not much about your midget racing roots at all. Could you please tell us more about your midget racing adventures?

Thanks,
Richard

MA: I started my open-wheel racing career with the American Three-Quarter Midget Racing Association in 1961. I got my first of four ATQMR wins with a 100-lap race win at Teaneck, New Jersey in 1962 when I was 22 years old. In 1963, I graduated to full-size midgets and, on Labor Day, won three midget features in one day in a single car at two different tracks. That launched me into USAC. I loved midget racing because I was racing against the best midget drivers of that era, like Len Duncan, Dutch Schafer, Tony Bonadias and others. It was inspiring and motivating.

Q: You’ve always had a need for speed – did you ever have an interest in becoming a pilot? A low pass at 200 knots is quite a thrill. 

Stay forever young,
John from NJ

MA: I’ve been asked many times what my backup plan might have been if racing didn’t work out. I’ve always said my alternate career might have been that of a fighter pilot. Definitely intriguing.

Q: Early in the Month of May in 1969, I believe you were set to drive a Lotus Ford before suffering a crash in practice, which caused you to go to your backup Hawk. We know that ended well for you!  But weren’t you turning in great speeds with the Lotus? Were you unhappy originally to have to go to the backup?

Thanks,
Dan

MA: I was doing very well with the Lotus, setting some records in practice. I wasn’t necessarily unhappy about going to the backup car, but I didn’t lose any sleep over it. I had no choice because all the Lotus cars were withdrawn. And there wasn’t time to dwell on it. You just get on with it. Now, I can only be happy with the result.

Q: What Formula 1 car was the most fun to drive, and which was the least fun to drive? 

Larry Simmers
Boston, MA

MA: Most fun was Lotus 78 and the 1982 Ferrari. Least fun was the four-wheel drive Lotus 63.

Andretti enjoying his Lotus 78 all the way to the top of the podium in Argentina in 1978. Image by Motorsport Images

Q: You’ve driven pretty much every type of race car there is, but to my knowledge you’ve never driven a rally car. Did you just never get the opportunity, or was it never something you wanted to do?

Thanks,
Buddy Campbell

MA: It never interested me, because rally racing takes a lot of time. Between the time needed for preparation and the length of the event itself, it could take a month, and I had too much else going on.

Q: Could you have won the world championship with Ferrari in the late ‘60s?

Ned Smith

MA: Your guess is as good as mine. Possibly.

Q: In 1978 you gave an in-car interview to Rob Walker while driving a Cadillac through traffic to the Brazilian GP. Rob was impressed with how smooth you were during that drive; only occasionally tapping the brake and smoothly applying acceleration all while moving at speed through the cars on the road. I’ve always wondered: did this ‘smoothness’ come naturally to you, or is it something you worked at and developed over time? Aside from yourself, which other drivers in your experience were ‘smooth’ behind the wheel?

Roger Baker

MA: I think smooth is a characteristic of certain drivers. Some are jerky and some are smooth. It’s hard to explain. Nobody ever told me I should work on it so I could be smoother. It’s something I just developed on my own. Being smooth was something I noticed about Alberto Ascari and Roger Ward.

Q: I’ve been a fan of yours since I was a young boy. I remember the ’69 Indy 500 and the build-up to it. I put newspaper clippings of the qualifying events on my wall, and I listened to the whole race on the radio! Thanks for taking my questions and blessings to you and your family!

What made Jim Clark such a great driver, and how would you rank him today compared to drivers that have come since him? And do you think Lotus cars were more fragile than other cars on the F1 grid?

Thanks again!
Bob Wooldridge

MA: Thanks for your interest and support. A great driver is a consistent winner. Not a one-off. What made Jim Clark such a great driver was that he won a lot of races. That’s how it was then – and that’s how it is now. As far as Lotus cars being fragile, Colin Chapman always took the design to the very limit to give the driver a weight advantage, and as a result, there were some failures.

Q: Hi Mario. Like all race fans the world over, I’m a huge fan. If you were an F1 owner in the 1970s and could have any two drivers from the era (not yourself) on your team, who would they be? Same question for you as an Indy owner in the 1980s.

We all love the fact that you are still such a great racing ambassador!

Rick Hughes
Deer River, MN

MA: In the 1970s, Emerson Fittipaldi and Niki Lauda would have been my choices. In the 1980s, Michael Andretti and Rick Mears.

Q: Are you still upset with Colin for his failing to top off your tanks during the 1977 season?

Neil Rubin

MA: You bet.

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