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Wine Country Personality

Mario Andretti, Part 2

National Champion

Mario Andretti's love of cars began at an early age in his native Italy, when he saw the great Alberto Ascari race at Monza. Influenced by this legendary driver, Andretti began his own racing career in 1959 – at the age of 19 – in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, four years after he and his family immigrated to the United States and discovered a dirt track, virtually in their back yard.

The first of Mario's victories came in the very first race he entered in Nazareth, at the wheel of a 1948 Hudson Hornet Sportsman stock car that he and his brother and some friends had built. Mario's career flourished as he won 20 races in the Sportsman class in his first two seasons.

His first Champ Car event was April 19, 1964 in Trenton, NJ, where he finished 11th after starting 16th. A year later, he won his first Champ Car race (the Hoosier Grand Prix) and earned Rookie of the Year honors at the Indianapolis 500 (with a third place finish). He went on that year to win the first of his four National Championships.

Mario repeated as USAC National Champion in 1966 before branching out to test his skill in other forms of racing. He won NASCAR's Daytona 500 in 1967. In 1968, he entered the Formula One Grand Prix racing circuit, capturing the pole position in his very first race at Watkins Glen. His first win on the Formula One circuit came in 1971 in South Africa. After finishing second in the National Championship in 1967 and 1968, he regained the title in 1969. He won nine races that year, including the Indy 500.

As a measure of his versatility and passion for the sport, Mario juggled Champ Car, Formula One, Formula 5000 and sports car racing in the late 60s and early 70s. He won the grueling 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race three times (1967, 1970 and 1972) and the USAC Dirt Track national championship in 1974. He also won several Formula 5000 races, finishing second in that series in 1973 and 1974.

From 1975 to 1981, he focused primarily on the Grand Prix circuit, winning 12 races and earning 16 pole positions. The highlight of his international career was in 1978 when he won six Formula One races and the World Championship.

Mario returned to Champ Car racing full-time in 1982 and two years later he won his fourth National Championship.

The last of Mario's record 407 Champ Car races was October 9, 1994 at Laguna Seca Raceway in California. And at that point he had won just about everything, including The Indy 500, the Daytona 500, the Formula One World Championship and four Champ Car National Championships. He won races in sports cars, sprint cars and stock cars – on ovals, road courses, drag strips, on dirt and on pavement.

Assessing his legacy is easy: He drove the careers of three men. He drove with a passion that few have equaled… and he won. Mario took the checkered flag 111 times during his career – a career that stretched five decades. And he was competitive all those years: He was named Driver of the Year in three different decades (the 60s, 70s and 80s), Driver of the Quarter Century (in the 90s) and was selected by both the media and fans as America's Driver of the 20th Century.

Today Mario is a successful businessman off the track and serves as spokesman, associate and friend to top executives around the world. His legacy continues with the Andretti Winery in Napa Valley, a petroleum business, car dealerships, the Mario Andretti Racing School in Las Vegas, the Andretti Indoor Karting and Games facility near Atlanta, two books about his life and an IMAX movie.