Mario Andretti helps create lifetime of memories in Hot Wheels Indy event

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One of Mario Andretti’s commitments during the Indianapolis 500 weekend was working with Mattel and Hot Wheels, as Hot Wheels presented the “World’s Best Driver Championship.” Hot Wheels put together a one-mile long slot car track on the front straight of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Andretti and nephew John served as a coach for the young kids.

We’ll let the 1969 Indianapolis 500 champion take it from there, in a phone interview he did with MotorSportsTalk Friday morning.

“They always want to do things and in a big, impressive way. Here, they certainly came up with another one,” Mario said. “They wanted to put together the longest slot track in history, a 1-mile oval that was laid out right on the front straightaway at Indianapolis. You had more than a thousand pieces and wheel boosters, and it was an incredible thing.

“So they needed some coaches. My nephew John and I were two of the four coaches. It was fun, great to prepare the kids,” he added. “The best part for them? They were in awe of everything. John and I told them how important it is for them. It was a shot of a lifetime and the kids are all nervous. We got them onto the brink of crying!

“Everything was building up, all the pressure, and the anxiety building up to the start.  The kid I was coaching had had a slight problem with the start. We led for a while and then, oh gosh, but we were second. Everybody was a winner; we were in victory lane with chocolate milk. The winner’s wreath was around their necks. I guarantee these kids will never forget this.”

Andretti, a legend and icon in every sense of the word, felt it was important to help pay it forward to expose the sport of IndyCar racing to them and help pique their interest to become greater fans.

“It’s a great opportunity to be involved and it’s why I love working with Mattel,” he said. “To help create a lasting memory for these kids and, as you say, it helps to build the new generation of fans. We’re there just sharing the excitement. I would love to be part of planting a seed in for a new generation of race fans.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.