IndyCar: John Andretti’s legacy still felt at Andretti Autosport

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The late John Andretti drove just three races at Andretti Autosport, but he was forever a part of Michael Andretti’s team.

John Andretti was one of the most versatile drivers in racing. He won a race in CART, two victories in NASCAR Cup. He was outstanding in USAC races and even competed in an NHRA Top-Fuel Dragster in 1993.

In 2010 and 2011, Andretti Autosport partnered with the legendary Richard Petty to field a car for John Andretti in the Indianapolis 500. The partnership also included John competing at Kansas Speedway in 2010.

After his racing career was over, John was a fixture at his cousin’s race team. He worked with young drivers, including second cousin Marco Andretti and John’s own son, Jarett.

The 27-year-old Jarrett Andretti became the newest Andretti to compete at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he raced in last year’s Freedom 100 Indy Lights Series contest.

John Andretti was known for his friendly personality and warm smile. Even during his final days on Earth as his body was ravaged from Stage 4 colon cancer, Andretti kept a positive attitude.

Andretti lost that battle on January 30 when he died in his adopted hometown of Mooresville, North Carolina.

Although his body is no longer on Earth, his spirit remains. The “Checkit4Andretti” initiative has saved numerous lives as people have underwent colonoscopies because of the program. Many of those that were checked have indicated they would have overlooked the key health check if it wasn’t for Andretti’s courageous fight.

Cousin Michael was very close to John Andretti. Drivers at Andretti Autosport has their own favorite memories of what John Andretti meant to them.

Some of those drivers shared those memories with NBCSports.com.

Ryan Hunter-Reay: “John meant a lot to me. I worked with him for a couple of seasons. I worked with him really closely at Andretti Autosport one season. He was our kind of driver coach. He’d look at the videos and go over everything. He always just taught me, and I still strive to be like John Andretti in that way.

“Just the optimism that he always had. The smile he always had on his face. How he treated other people even when he didn’t know them. He would come in the trailer in the morning and didn’t matter if I had a bad day the day before, he would say, “It’s a good day to be Hunter-Reay.’ And it would just make me smile. I would be back at him that it’s ‘Always good to be John Andretti.’

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“He’s got that special energy about him. He moved people. He affected people in a positive way, including myself. I learned a lot from him that way. It was more about how to approach life in general.

“It’s just unfair. It’s always the good ones that get snagged by that. Same thing with my mom. Colon cancer, got it too late, waited until she had symptoms and boom. It’s a death sentence. Yeah, he meant a lot to me in more ways than one. Just terrible situation. Hope others can actually learn from that. The ‘Check it 4 Andretti’ is no joke. Get checked, if you get it before the symptoms arrive, it’s a big deal.

“He was a great dad.  He took the time in the shop and he would be there in the back corner with Jarret from the beginning tearing apart those sprint cars. John was so selfless in that way. Very selfless. His daughters are beautiful, successful, very smart. The whole family, and that comes from the leadership of John.

“It all comes from that positivity and that attitude he had about life, not only racing but life.”

Marco Andretti: “That guy always went on with a smile, no matter what. John is the most selfless guy I have ever met. He would be disappointed in us if we started crying, so we need to go on and have fun and drive Indy cars.

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“He ran a different font on his helmet. We are doing that on the back of our Nomex and on the car. It’s ‘Checkit4Andretti.’ If there is any purpose, he saved so many lives already.

“I’ve run into people all about the world that say they found something early and they had it checked because of John. The whole family hears those stories, so he saved countless families.

“From a diversity standpoint, next to Mario and the passion for the sport, John was right there. John would talk racing for hours on end. He was so passionate and diverse. He drove and won in a lot of different things. It was very admirable.”

Zach Veach: “I didn’t know John as the driver. I went to his service, and everyone was telling stories about his NASCAR races. It struck me that I never appreciated him for the driver he was. He never talked to me about that side of things.

Zach Veach. Photo: IndyCar

“John was always so positive on the personal side. Anytime I was at the shop, especially having a rough go of things, he would always make time to sit and talk to me for 15 to 20 minutes. He always made it apparent that he believed in me. I always appreciated that. That was just John as a person.

“It’s sad to say even at the service, you’re paying your respects and saying condolences, and Nancy, the first thing she said was ‘I’m glad you’re here, John thought you had so much potential.’ And it’s like, you just know that he cared. That’s a really big thing.

“The world is definitely a loss of a better person without John, but for me, especially, I want to make sure that his legacy lives on for what he was trying to do so brave with the ‘CheckIt4Andretti.’ I want to make sure that continues because it’s one of the last things he was so passionate and caring for, but it should continue.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500