John Andretti fights cancer and his message is on full display

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

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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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.”