American motor sport legend Mario Andretti doesn’t lack for many accolades. He has totalled considerable success across Formula 1, sports cars, NASCAR, midgets, sprint cars as well as in IndyCars, and has good claim as the sport’s greatest ever all-rounder. But victory in the blue riband Indianapolis 500 was one that–almost–entirely eluded him. He won the uniquely challenging race just once, in 1969, indeed he only made it to the finish it on five occasions. This was despite taking part 29 times and that only two drivers ever have led more laps at the event than him, as well as despite Andretti’s glittering career including four IndyCar championships and 52 race wins in the category.
Andretti’s Indianapolis ill-fortune became legendary and led to the concept of the “Andretti Curse”. Reasons for him missing out on wins have over time covered the full range, including mechanical failures and crashes, while in 1981 it looked for several months that he had indeed taken his second Indy victory, as winner on the road Bobby Unser was penalized post-race for passing cars under a caution flag. In October Unser though was reinstated. The “curse” seems to have extended to Andretti family members also as Mario’s sons Michael and Jeff, nephew John and grandson Marco all have had Indy victory elude them–Marco indeed lost out by a car length in 2006 thanks to an amazing last lap pass. Michael won it on five occasions as a team owner however.
Possibly it is appropriate therefore that Mario’s solitary Indy 500 win arrived amid considerable adversity. He had to contend with a slipping clutch, an overheating engine as well as a sticking wheel nut that meant he had to run the whole race on only one set of tires, yet Andretti led the majority of the way and prevailed. And this amazing win is to be marked 50 years on with a special logo, which Andretti and Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) president Doug Boles unveiled on Wednesday, along with a display in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum dedicated to Andretti that will aim to convey the huge variety of cars which he competed in during his long career. “The exhibit will feature historic Andretti cars, many making their first appearance at the Museum, video and audio recordings of Mario and the Andretti family, and personal memorabilia that highlights the prestigious accomplishments of ‘The Driver of Century’,” says the IMS.