Mario Andretti won a lot of races over the course of his decades-long dominance as a race car driver – 109 total victories in major races, as a matter of fact. He is one of only two drivers to have won Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship and NASCAR races. He’s taken home the trophy for the Daytona 500 and the Formula One World Championship.
But despite 25 total starts, he’s only crossed the finish line first at the Indianapolis 500 a single time. This weekend will mark the 50th anniversary of that historic win. Andretti, who remains an active ambassador of the sport at the age of 79, will be honored Sunday when the Indianapolis 500 is run for the 103rd time.
It takes moxie to strap yourself into a rocket on wheels and drive non-stop for 3:11:14.71, and Andretti has it. Here’s how:
Moxie just keeps going.
In 1969, Mario Andretti was ready for the Indianapolis 500. He’d finished dead last the year before, but now he was back with a new car he believed in. But a horrific, fiery crash in a practice run just a few days before the race left Andretti with burns on his face and a car totaled beyond repair.
Andretti’s team had a scramble to prepare another car to be ready to run. The major concern was the engine’s tendency to overheat. The car made it through qualifying, but modifications were being made to the cooling system all the way through the early morning hours before the race.
The problems didn’t stop after the flag dropped, either. His crew couldn’t get his right rear tires off, so he ran the whole race on that same tire. The oil temperature reached 270 degrees, and the cooling system mounted behind Andretti’s seat became so hot that his back was blistered. He had to back off his speed to keep the car cool enough to stay competitive. But despite the challenges and seeming misfortune, luck was on Andretti’s side. His top competitors dropped out, and soon enough he cruised to victory at a time that beat the previous record by more than five minutes.
“[I] just kept saying, ‘Just keep going, just keep going, just keep going’ the whole race,” Andretti said in an AP story this week.
It takes moxie to keep going through excruciating pain and waves of setbacks, and Andretti’s moxie was on full display in his Indianapolis 500 win.
What about you? Do you ever feel like everything is going against you, and it’s taking everything you’ve got just to keep going? What do you think Andretti would say to you in your circumstances?
Moxie takes the long road.
Perhaps it was Andretti’s early experiences as a refugee and an immigrant that instilled in him the moxie to just keep going.
Andretti was born in 1940 in what was then a part of Italy, and is now part of Croatia. Following World War II, the region became part of the former Yugoslavia, a communist state. The Andretti family, including Mario and his twin brother Aldo, was eventually forced to flee. The ended up in a refugee camp sharing a single room with several other families. It took years before the family was granted visas to travel to the United States.
Just a year before immigrating to the United States, the Andretti boys had the chance to see watch the Italian Grand Prix. It was love at first sight. Mario and Aldo fell in love with racing.
As luck would have it, upon their arrival in America the Andrettis settled in Bethlehem, Penn., home of the Nazareth Speedway. It was the perfect place for two young lads to nurture their budding passion for racing.
It was surely hard for young Andretti to live with the uncertainty of growing up in a refugee camp. But his parents provided love and security despite the long wait to get out of their precarious circumstances.
Do you feel “stuck” in an uncomfortable place right now? Perhaps you should pause for a moment and experience gratitude for those who are caring for you through this season. Take a beat to simply be aware of the opportunities that might cross your path. Who knows – you might discover a new passion, just as the Andretti boys did.
Moxie runs in the family.
For Andretti, racing has always been a family affair. Mario and Aldo raced and built cars together early on. In fact, Aldo surreptitiously took his brothers spot in the 1969 Indianapolis 500 photo. Mario was self-conscious about the fresh burns on his face, so Aldo stood in. No one was the wiser until the brothers let others in on the joke.
Andretti’s sons, grandson and nephew have also followed in Mario’s footsteps and become successful racecar drivers. An Andretti has been in the Indy 500 field 68 more times since Mario’s 1969 win, but none have ever pulled off another victory as a driver.
The Andretti clan will likely be gathered to enjoy the race and honor their patriarch this weekend. They will undoubtedly miss matriarch Dee Ann, who passed away suddenly last July following a heart attack. Mario and Dee Ann met shortly after he arrived from Italy; it was Dee Ann that taught him English. The two were sweethearts for more than half their lives.
It takes moxie not only to build a dynasty, but to build a loving family.
How will you spend this weekend? Will you gather with those you love, and remember those who have gone before? Moxie is strengthened and encouraged by strong, supportive relationships. If you have them, appreciate and nurture them. If you don’t, seek them out and build them.
If you need a little inspiration, look to Mario Andretti.