Mario Andretti, at 70, still remains one of the true icons in American motorsports. The statistical value of his exploits -- Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 wins and a Formula One title, among other accolades-- are contorted by their weight.
Still halfway in the cockpit as a high-profile two-seater driver in IndyCar, and a member of a Goodwill tour of U.S. troops installations, Andretti still takes every opportunity to espouse the grandeur of the old pastime, what open wheel racing is and should be again, and his still-smoldering dislike for what he feels Tony George perpetrated upon the regimen by forming the Indy Racing League.
I think he knows where it needs to go. He needs to know where we have to appeal. He is a very good business man. He made a statement to me at the beginning when everyone was trying to give advice because there were many areas of self-interest. He said he was just trying to sort everything out, that it was like trying to drink from a fire hose. I think he's been able to select the kind of advice he's getting and put it in the right direction. I had my doubts because he seemed to be so foreign to the sport, but he's been patient. I know he's intelligent enough to see what is necessary. He certainly has my vote.
I derived quite a bit of satisfaction from NASCAR because we used to move around and NASCAR drivers would come to Indianapolis. I was one of the NASCAR drivers who actually encouraged them, the Cale Yarboroughs of the world. Whenever that exchange happened, it was wonderful. A.J. Foyt going and winning in NASCAR, Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, all those exchanges were just golden for the sport in general. We're catering for the racing fan in general across the board.
Now most of those teams don't take a one-off driver anymore, so that's different. Also, it's more commercial now and you have sponsors that want to lock you up and put you in a box. Some drivers don't have the power to remain independent, so there are a lot of factors. Ultimately, however, it's up to the individual. There was no team or sponsor that ever bought me and bought my career and prevented me running what I wanted to. I came from that position of strength, quite honestly, and it worked for me.