They began life in America as identical twins with wide eyes, big dreams and race cars as their daily bread. One made it to the top of his profession, and the other spent much of his 80 years in that long, famous shadow.
But make no mistake, Aldo Andretti was always proud to be in Mario’s corner and never, ever moaned about the cruel hand life dealt him.
“That’s my takeaway. He’s my brother and I love him, and he had so many things happen to him that he had to overcome, and never once said, ‘Why me?”’ said Mario on Thursday afternoon after Aldo passed away Wednesday night from COVID-19. “He was always so supportive of me, always so positive. He always made the best of what he had. I never heard him say, ‘That could have been me.'”
Of course it could have been him, since they started racing jalopies together and seemed to have equal ability until Aldo’s debilitating crash in 1959 that put him in a coma and considerably slowed his on-track progress. He bounced around in sprint cars during the 1960s before a violent 1969 flip at Des Moines destroyed his right eye socket, smashed his jaw and broke 14 bones.
That came a week after he’d sat for his brother in the front row qualifying photo at Indianapolis since Mario had been burned earlier in the month.
“Imagine those emotions,” said the 1969 Indy 500 winner. “He’s sitting in my Indy car and a week later he’s lying in an Iowa hospital with all that trauma. You know, as a racer he was dealt some tough cards, but never lost his spirit. That’s what I loved about his spirit, he was always trying to keep our spirits up.
“Obviously he never got to do all the things he wanted in racing but he was able to live and breathe racing through his kids (John, Adam and Mark), but we had the same capabilities. He wanted it as much as I did, so how do you figure that I had so much good luck and he didn’t?”
The only time he ever gave a glimpse of his emotions came in a story with Tom Keating of The Indianapolis Star.
“I’m extremely proud of Mario but sometimes I feel something like envy mixed with pride,” he said. “Not envy exactly, but something close, like my life isn’t quite fulfilled.”
The fulfilling part of his life was the great family he raised with wife Corky – three sons and two daughters – all successful adults like their father had been in business, including the Firestone store in Speedway he shared with Mario. He was as proud of Carolyn and Mary Jo as his boys, but got to live his racing life vicariously through middle son John, who became a winner in USAC, IndyCar and NASCAR. Dad never missed a race in person when physically possible and glowed in the limelight that had always evaded him.
It was a year ago that cancer claimed John Andretti at age 56, and Aldo was battling for own his life up until the end.
“It looked like he was turning the corner, and all of the sudden he was gone,” said Mario. “He fought the only way he knew.”