An immigrant who came to the land of the free and fulfilled his American Dream, Mario Andretti was born in the middle ofWorld War II in a war stricken town of Montona. Mario and his twin brother Aldo spent their first seven years in a camp, facing severe food shortages and crowded conditions. When the war ended, the part of Italy the Andretti family was in, was handed over to the Communists and it became a part of Yugoslavia. The Andrettis then moved to Lucca and this is where Mario first came to know about the sport that would become his lifelong passion.
He would cycle miles with his brother to watch the portion of road near Lucca of the Mille Miglia road race. But the 1954 Italian Grand Prix was what truly enthralled the young boy, for whom the sight of powerful Formula One cars such asMaserati, Lancia and Ferrari was heaven. Alberto Ascari was Mario’s idol, and remained so even after Ascari was killed at Monza in 1955.
In 1955 itself, the Andretti family migrated to America for a better future. The Andertti boys only saw this as opportunity to follow up their passion for motorsport and soon began racing rather unsophisticated machinery on dirt track ovals. Both boys were 18 when they started racing, and usually did so in their self prepared Hudson Hornet. During one of these races in 1959, Aldo had a bad accident and received serious injuries, he never raced again. Mario on the other hand, kept at the sport and soon became a household name in American racing circles. After conquering short ovals, Mario moved onto giant speedways and even won the famous Indianapolis 500, and secured the United Sates Auto Club championship title many times.
During this time, the usually fair and honorable racer became an aggressive adversary. His talent extended to racing in all forms, winning the Daytona 500 for stock cars and also the Sebring 12 Hours, for sport cars. Despite all these wins he never gave up his dream to race in the Formula One.
In 1965, in Indianapolis, Mario finished third in the race and was offered a future in Formula One racing by Colin Chapman, Lotus boss. In 1968, Mario made his Formula One debut in a Lotus 49 and acquired a pole position for the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. Chapman offered Mario a full time position with Lotus, to replace Jim Clark who had died earlier that year.
But Andretti was not willing to leave the security that his lucrative career provided in America. He agreed to occasional Formula One races, provided his USAC commitments allowed it. The next few years were inconsequential on the Formula One front for Andretti, with the only exception being 1971. He had signed with Ferrari for a campaign in both sports cars and Formula One, and he won the season’s first Grand Prix, in South Africa. In 1976 Andretti was pushed into focusing on his Formula One racing, after facing a lean period in his USAC career. He decided to join a faltering Team Lotus and a Grand Prix victory was not expected by anyone.