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.

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images

Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”