Happy 75th birthday to one of the best ever, Mario Andretti


There are few first names in racing history that stir the soul solely on their own.

The mere mention of their names ignite a passion, an overflow of memories, a reverence for his or her accomplishments and a follow-up line that is something to do the tune of “wow, was it an honor to watch them race.”

To name four off hand, you could just say Mario, A.J., Dale or Ayrton, and leave it at that. Their last names aren’t required.

In Mario Andretti’s case, today is a day to pay tribute as he turns 75, a little more than a month after his longtime rival A.J. Foyt turned 80.

Andretti is still one of the most recognizable names whenever the conversation involves racing. His views now are as insightful and informative as they were 50 years ago. His accomplishments stand alone as the era of racing we see today doesn’t allow for the same level of crossover as he was able to accomplish.

Throughout it all, he remains oh so cool, and oh so down to earth.

You can rattle off the accomplishments as you want, and so you do almost effortlessly.

Andretti’s wins span from the 1967 Daytona 500 to the 1969 Indianapolis 500, and the 1978 World Championship always stands out, as he is the second and most recent American to have achieved that honor.

There’s the 52 wins in North American open-wheel racing between ovals, road courses, pavement and dirt. There’s the three USAC and 1984 CART championships.

There’s the fact that his last win in CART, in 1993, came when he was 53 years old and still at the top of his game.

The lone race that eluded him was the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race Foyt conquered in 1967. But that’s hardly a blot of his copybook.

For me as a younger reporter, the mere mention of Andretti’s name still stirs the soul, and his presence still makes him one of the most iconic people in the paddock.

When you work with drivers and teams as you’re gathering information, you’re rarely awestruck. They’re doing their jobs, you’re finding out how they’re doing it and you go back to the press room and start working up the story on how they’re doing what they’re doing.

But when you see Mario, still, you almost have to stop for a second, take it all in and have a moment to appreciate the accomplishments and the man at that moment.

I’m pushing 100 races covered on site in my career over the last decade or so, but every time I see Andretti at a track I stop and pause from whatever it is I’m doing and just watch. And learn.

Ever the gentleman, Andretti is always stopping to sign autographs, take pictures, spend a second or two talking to whoever it is that is speaking to him, and does so effortlessly. He continues to amaze.

Selfishly, I’d love to see him, Michael and Marco share a sports car for one last 24-hour race, but I’m not sure that will happen.

Nonetheless, today and every day, he remains one of the all-time greats.

We wish him a happy 75th birthday this Saturday.

IndyCar Power Rankings: Pato O’Ward moves to the top entering Texas Motor Speedway


The NBC Sports IndyCar power rankings naturally were as jumbled as the action on the streets of St. Petersburg after a chaotic opener to the 2023 season.

Pato O’Ward, who finished second because of an engine blip that cost him the lead with a few laps remaining, moves into the top spot ahead of St. Pete winner Marcus Ericsson and Alexander Rossi, who finished fourth in his Arrow McLaren debut. Scott Dixon and St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who led 31 laps) rounded out the top five.

St. Pete pole-sitter Romain Grosjean (who started first at St. Pete after capturing his second career pole position) Callum Ilott (a career-best fifth) and Graham Rahal entered the power rankings entering the season’s second race.

Three drivers fell out of the preseason top 10 after the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg – including previously top-ranked Josef Newgarden, who finished 17th after qualifying 14th.

Heading into Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through the first of 17 races this year (with previous preseason rankings in parenthesis):

NBC Sports’ IndyCar Power Rankings

1. Pato O’Ward (5) – If not for the dreaded “plenum event” in the No. 5 Chevrolet, the Arrow McLaren driver is opening the season with a victory capping a strong race weekend.

2. Marcus Ericsson (7) – He might be the most opportunistic driver in IndyCar, but that’s because the 2022 Indy 500 winner has become one of the series’ fastest and most consistent stars.

3. Alexander Rossi (10) – He overcame a frustrating Friday and mediocre qualifying to open his Arrow McLaren career with the sort of hard-earned top five missing in his last years at Andretti.

4. Scott Dixon (3) – Put aside his opening-lap skirmish with former teammate Felix Rosenqvist, and it was a typically stealthily good result for the six-time champion.

5. Romain Grosjean (NR) – The St. Petersburg pole-sitter consistently was fastest on the streets of St. Petersburg over the course of the race weekend, which he couldn’t say once last year.

6. Scott McLaughlin (6) – Easily the best of the Team Penske drivers before his crash with Grosjean, McLaughlin drove like a legitimate 2023 championship contender.

7. Callum Ilott (NR) – A quietly impressive top five for the confident Brit in Juncos Hollinger Racing’s first race as a two-car team. Texas will be a big oval litmus test.

8. Graham Rahal (NR) – Sixth at St. Pete, Rahal still has the goods on street courses, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan remains headed in the right direction.

9. Alex Palou (4) – He seemed a step behind Ericsson and Dixon in the race after just missing the Fast Six in qualifying, but this was a solid start for Palou.

10. Will Power (2) – An uncharacteristic mistake that crashed Colton Herta put a blemish on the type of steady weekend that helped him win the 2022 title.

Falling out (last week): Josef Newgarden (1), Colton Herta (8), Christian Lundgaard (9)