Photo: IndyCar

John Andretti fights cancer and his message is on full display


INDIANAPOLIS (AP) John Andretti can’t shake the sound from his head. The haunting sound of a machine pumping toxic chemicals into his system as part of chemotherapy.

“I wake up in the middle of the night and I sit and listen to this pump going and know this pump is poison,” Andretti said. “I hear that pump right now. I hate that thing.”

The 54-year-old Andretti is in the fight of his life and has been for several months. He is battling cancer that started in his colon, spread to his liver and doctors believe to his spleen, too.

The former racer is back for his family’s annual May reunion in the venue that has always felt like home – Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a place that provides Andretti with the boost he needs right now.

“This place is life to an Andretti,” he said. “I get chills because this is the most special place on the planet for me, for my family. This gives me energy.”

Andretti started 49 consecutive IndyCar races from 1990-92 before moving to NASCAR, where he made 29 or more starts every year from 1994-2003. He was the first driver to attempt the Memorial Day double, racing first in the Indianapolis 500 and then NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600.

Andretti spoke Thursday during an announcement for his #CheckIt4Andretti campaign encouraging those 50 or older to get a colonoscopy. Andretti hopes the message is heard by everyone, not just racing fans.

A decal will be placed on every car in 101st running of the 500, the Coca-Cola 600 and the Freedom 100 races. The decal will also be displayed at other races in Indiana and Kentucky this month with the (hash)CheckIt4Andretti message “Schedule Your Colonoscopy Today.”

“John is in a different race,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles said. “And not unlike his spirit and his fight, he has figured out a way to be a superhero in this new fight and this new race that he’s on.”

It’s an important message that can save a life or at the very least, relieve some pain and financial burden. Had he gone through a colonoscopy at 50, Andretti said, he believes the cancer never would have progressed to this point. Throughout his career, Andretti received regular medical screenings – just not the one he’s now pushing for.

“I was always focused on my health,” Andretti said. “It wasn’t a matter that I wasn’t paying attention. … The only thing I was missing was a colonoscopy.”

Andretti has nearly forced those closest to him to get one, including his cousin, Michael, who recently had his. Prior to Thursday’s announcement, Andretti placed the first decal on one of his cousin’s cars.

“It is perfectly aligned and straight,” Andretti said. “I was going to actually put it on crooked so it would drive my cousin nuts for the whole month.”

Most of Andretti’s chemotherapy treatments have been in North Carolina, where he lives, and his sixth treatment will be in Indianapolis next week. In June, he will have surgery on his liver and spleen.

“People get embarrassed by talking about colonoscopies and they shouldn’t be because it’s just something that’s natural,” Andretti said. “So it’s something that’s really close to me now and obviously important, and for everybody to do. It’s way easier than doing (chemo), I can guarantee you that, because I did both.”

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‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”