“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 aciona­dos, 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 terric. 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

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