AUDIO/FEATURE: Andretti legacy continues as John Andretti shifts gears to support son Jarett

Jacob Seelman Audio, Featured, Midwest, NASCAR, Other Midgets, Road Racing, Sprints & Midgets, Verizon IndyCar Series 0 Comments

January 23, 2014 — Audio, cover photo and story by Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — INDIANAPOLIS, IN — John Andretti may not be the first family member that comes to mind when one asks a race fan about the Andretti lineage, but if you want to rank the members of the family for behind-the-scenes work, you have to put John right near the top when it comes to still being active around the race track today.

The former Indianapolis 500 starter and NASCAR stalwart for Petty Enterprises in the late 90s has kept true to his racing heritage, returning to where it all began for him in motorsports, the midget car ranks, in recent years.

“I never really left the race track,” Andretti explains when you catch him at a free moment or without a wrench in his hand. “I traveled for years racing, and then I stopped traveling to spend time with my family, but then it all started again, and I went back (to race at Indianapolis) a couple years ago, so it’s always been there for me.”

Andretti’s history in motorsports goes all the way back to Fort Wayne, Indiana, in the days when the USAC National Midgets raced at the old Fort Wayne Coliseum before the current Expo Center was built. Andretti recalls not qualifying for his very first midget race at the Coliseum, a race in which he first used a very famous number, the number 43.

“At the time, I had just started racing, and our very first race we used the number 43, and I didn’t necessarily think about the fact that it was (Richard Petty’s) number at the time.”

Andretti adds with a laugh, “We didn’t really have a great showing that day; we got crashed out after starting on the pole of the B-main that day, so we didn’t even make the feature, but that was where it all got started.”

Over the years, the second generation Andretti left his tire tracks on the CART, IMSA sports-car and NASCAR circuits, leaving no doubt that he was as capable as his father Aldo and uncle Mario. John co-drove the winning entry in the 1989 Rolex 24 at Daytona, scored a CART victory in Surfer’s Paradise, Australia in 1991, and competed in the Indianapolis 500 twelve times, with a best finish of fifth in ’91. He also became the first driver to ever attempt “Double Duty”, competing in both the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 on the same day in 1994.

Andretti moved over to NASCAR full-time in 1994 and landed at Petty Enterprises midway through the season, driving for several teams through the mid-90s before winning the Firecracker 400 at Daytona in 1997, which ultimately led to his reunion with Richard Petty and the #43 car in 1998. Andretti lived up to his hiring by coming back from a lap down to win for Petty Enterprises in 1999 at Martinsville; the last win for the team before it merged with Gillette-Evernham Motorsports in 2008 (ultimately becoming Richard Petty Motorsports).

To this day, besides the King, Andretti is the longest tenured-driver of the #43 car.

Andretti has not raced full-time since 2009 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but did return to the Indianapolis 500 from 2007 to 2011. While he says he wouldn’t race full time again, he admits that if the right part-time or one-off opportunity in NASCAR or for the 500 came about, he would consider it if it gave him a shot to be competitive.

“I don’t want to go out (to Indy) or anywhere else to just go, but if I were going to be competitive, have a shot; if it would be worth my while, I’d hop in the car. Like, if Smoke (Tony Stewart) came to me and said, ‘Hey, I’m not going to be able to race my car for a while, would you come race it for me?’, I’d do it. But again, it would have to be the right time and the right scenario.”

Today, Andretti is more concerned with watching and mentoring the career of his son, Jarett, who is currently racing USAC midgets, Silver Crown cars and sprint cars full-time throughout the Midwest. The duo did compete together in the 50th Rolex 24 at Daytona in 2011, and Andretti says that watching Jarett race is a new joy to his time in motorsports.

“It’s special to me to see him getting his start the same way I did, in these open wheel cars,” the Hoosier says with a smile. “It’s not something we’ve ever pushed in the family, he chose to hop behind the wheel. I joke with him sometimes that I never really retired, because no more did I get out of the car full-time than he started racing, and I was right back traveling every week. But I truly enjoy it; I enjoyed it when I was behind the wheel, and I enjoy it now going to the track with Jarett and helping him out.”

“I’ve been at the track a long time, and it’s always a pleasure to be at the race track. It’s in our blood.”

 

Listen in to our full exclusive interview with John Andretti as he talks his history in motorsports and his outlook on son Jarett’s career:

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