Q: If I were a betting man I would put $50 on Pato O’Ward to win Indy. I met that kid when he was driving Pro Mazda and watched him out at Lucas Oil. Somewhere in my Facebook there is a post that he will be the first Mexican Indy 500 winner! What say you? Agree?
Troay Strong, Kansas City
RM: I think it would be a good bet, because Pato should already have a couple of wins and he’s run good at IMS. Hell, he’s run good everywhere, and if Arrow McLaren SP continues to improve there could easily be a Mexican hat dance in Victory Lane next May.
Q: I was greatly saddened to read of the passing of Aldo Andretti on New Year’s eve. A gentleman whose career suffered a lot setbacks, though it seems not to have affected his life’s outlook. (Bad) luck, it seems, played as big a part in his life as skill. I had the treat of seeing both Andretti brothers compete in a USAC sprint car race in 1966. It was so early in their careers that both could stroll around the grandstands without being mobbed by fans. I saw one walking toward me and I assumed it was Mario until I got close enough to see the name stitched on the driving suit and discovered it was Aldo. Talk about identical twins! Did he have similar talent?
Steve C., Ithaca, NY
RM: They only ran together once in a sprint car race at Oswego, N.Y. to my knowledge, and that was probably the night you saw them (but it may have been 1967). Mario always said Aldo was just as good when they started, but after that first bad crash there was no comparison. I remember going to Bloomington with Danny Milburn (my former high school classmate and good sprint racer) in the late ’60s (before his second accident) when he was stooging for Aldo, and he just didn’t have that touch needed to succeed in sprinters. But he was such a fine man, husband and father, and reveled in John’s success.
Q: It’s been a tough year or so for the Andretti family. Sympathies to the family. But it brings up a question: was it ever confirmed that Aldo ‘filled in’ for Mario after his 1969 victory? That it was Aldo who got his picture posted in the papers instead? Never heard the final story.
RM: Aldo filled in during the front row photo at Indianapolis in ’69 because Mario was still recovering from his facial burns suffered in his Turn 4 practice crash.
Q: You can’t write the article on the passing of Aldo Andretti with any more truth. Excellent writing about a very good person. You always saw Aldo in his son John.
Stephen Janny, Nazareth, PA
RM: Thanks. I remember when John was commuting from college in Pennsylvania to the Speedrome and I did a column about it for the Indianapolis Star. Aldo was so proud and so happy and he called me up and said he was buying 10 copies to pass out to everyone. John took his dad where he never got to go in racing.
Q: Very saddened by the passing of John Paul Jr. He was most successful in IMSA, but as you and Marshall pointed out, he won in IndyCar twice. If he had not run into legal trouble and had access to a good chassis, how far could he have gone? I watched his win at Michigan online the other night. That was a brave move, especially during a period of time that a crash on an oval almost guaranteed foot/leg injuries.
Jonathan and Cleide Morris, Ventura, CA
RM: My best answer is to read what I wrote on Monday. I have no doubt JPJ would have been a champion with a good team.
Q: Thanks for the tribute to John Paul Jr. I never knew what a great talent he was! I checked out the book you referenced – “50/50” by Sylvia Wilkinson – and it seems to be a quality book by a talented author. Do you know her, and what was her motivation for doing all this work? It seems like JPJ was a great person and pretty much the opposite of his father for whom he sacrificed so much. Any good JPJ stories? Thank you, Marshall and Ms. Wilkinson for bring out the greatness/goodness in JPJ instead of just repeating the old drug dealer stories.
Andy, Las Vegas
RM: Sylvia’s longtime companion, John Morton, was a helluva racer who teamed with JPJ is some sports car races and they became good friends. Sylvia’s original book, “The Stainless Steel Carrot,” remains one of the best and she simply wrote JPJ’s story to try and raise money for him because she’s a great lady.
Q: Thank you for the kind article about the passing and life of John Paul Jr. He lived a complicated life, pulled in many directions and tried to do his best. He was always friendly with his fans, especially the young ones. He generally touched a lot of those on and off the track with his kindness. I always felt that you were fair to John in your articles, which was appreciated. Thank you again.
RM: If you knew JPJ you couldn’t help but like him, because he was such a genuine person and exceedingly humble and gracious. I always felt empathy for him because his evil father put him in such a terrible position, but he refused to ever play the pity card. I’ve read a lot of comments that people say he knew what he was doing when he was 15 and again when he was 25 and refused to testify against JP Senior. He was a kid and his dad was a violent person so of course he did what he was told, and 10 years later he had no idea where the old man was hiding, so how much help could he have been? He paid a severe price for his loyalty, but everyone that got to know him would testify that he wasn’t a doper or a criminal – just a good guy caught in bad circumstances. Thanks for your note.
Q: John Paul Jr.’s death got me thinking: what if the IRL had come about say, around 1984? An all-oval series with an American flavor. Who would have been the guys to venture there and who would have been the front-runners?
RM: Well, you have to remember that IndyCar racing was all ovals until IRP made the schedule in 1965 and the USAC/CART split in 1979 made it necessary to go after road courses – which eventually turned out to be a good thing. The guys in the early ’80s that would have benefited from an IRL-type schedule and never got a shot would have been Ronnie Shuman, Chuck Gurney, Sleepy Tripp, Billy Casella, Doug Wolfgang, Shane Carson, Ricky Hood, Tony Elliott, Eric Gordon and Dave Darland off the top of my head. Obviously, Sammy Swindell and Steve Kinser would have been front and center, but likely wouldn’t have been able to take the pay cut.