“When I retired from racing, I came down with allergies. A doctor told me: ‘You’ve lived your entire adult life on adrenaline. And now your body thinks you’re dead, so you’ve no defences’”
In a career that encompassed IndyCars, dirt racing and Formula 1, 1978 champion Mario Andretti never stopped. Here he looks back at a life lived at full throttle
Mario Andretti proudly shows off his cowboy boots as he walks into the W Hotel in downtown Austin. It’s typical of the man from Pennsylvania that he wants to enter into the spirit of the moment as this self-reliant Texan city cocks a snook at the rest of the USA by staging an F1 race – and a good one at that.
The choice of Mario as an ambassador for the US GP is obvious. No one else on earth better embodies the spirit of motor racing across its many disciplines. You name it, Andretti has done it – and probably won it. Champ Car champion (four times), USAC dirt champion and, of course, the 1978 F1 world champion while driving for Lotus during the one of the many peaks of Colin Chapman’s technical genius. Andretti has also raced in World Sports Cars, NASCAR, F5000, IROC, Midgets and Sprint Cars.
In a career spanning ve decades, Mario has remained passionate, laconic, balanced and wonderful company; the archetypal racer and entertainer. He may be small in stature but, for motorsport acionados, he’s the biggest man in town. And that’s got nothing to do with the heels on those smart boots… Maurice Hamilton: I was looking back over all the stuff you’ve done and I thought: ‘Where do we start?’ Since we’re here in your home country, the one line of thought in connection with F1 is the enormous number of venues the US Grand Prix has visited. The one that probably means more to you than anywhere is Watkins Glen. Mario Andretti: Indeed. That was the mainstay for so many years; it represented the hub of F1 and it was so popular in its day. It’s so unfortunate it never kept up with time and attracted re-investment. Once it moved from The Glen, Long Beach captivated everyone. Europe was moving away from street circuits – the only one remaining was Monaco – and here was America with a modern-day street circuit. MH: It was quite a gamble, wasn’t it? Long Beach in the mid-seventies was pretty low-rent. MA: It was. There was nothing going on in that city. The rst race we did prior to the grand prix in 1976 was for F5000. We were going through regular stop lights; they didn’t even have those regulated and everyone was making jokes about it. But, fortunately, it picked up. MH: One of many great memories I have is of my rst visit in 1977 to Long Beach and California. You were holding a media breakfast on board the Queen Mary. I managed to get an invite and I remember driving my big rental car across the bridge to the port on a glorious sunny morning to have breakfast with Mario Andretti, I turn the radio on and it’s The Mamas and The Papas California Dreamin’. I thought: ‘I’m in heaven’. MA: [Laughs]. Yeah, the ambiance was terric. It’s amazing what motor racing has done for that city. It has evolved. Every year they declare a city in the country that’s been the most creative; the best place to be. Long Beach has met that criteria thanks to the hotels, the convention centre and people coming to the city. The race breathed