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BRAVO, MARIO!

Oct. 02, 1978
Oct. 02, 1978

Table of Contents
Oct. 2, 1978

USC-Alabama
Steelers Vs. Browns
Reggie Smith
Nantucket Stripers
Baseball
College Football
Boxing
Soccer
Mario
19th Hole: The Readers Take Over

BRAVO, MARIO!

Hard-charging Mario Andretti experienced both triumph and tragedy on his way to becoming the second American to win the world driving championship

By Robert F. Jones

A few summers ago, Mario Andretti found time for a rare break from the whirligig world of cars and speed. It was only his second vacation since he started racing full time in 1965. He took his family out to Lake Powell, the impoundment behind Glen Canyon Dam on the Arizona-Utah border, for a week of house-boating, water skiing and just general relaxation. Parnelli Jones, a former rival but then manager of the Indy car team Andretti drove for, was there with his family, too, as were a few other racing people.

This is an article from the Oct. 2, 1978 issue Original Layout

Andretti proved as much a daredevil on water skis as he is behind a racing wheel. He loved nothing better than ripping along behind Parnelli's Campbell ski boat and seeing how close he could come to the red stone cliffs. He also seemed to enjoy rolling giant boulders off the cliffs and hearing them crash far below. The week went quickly—sun and sandstone, cold nights frosted with stars, good fishing, cool water and plenty of iced Olympia beer (at the time one of Parnelli's sponsors). Then the group headed back to the marina and the high-dollar, high-pressure world of motor racing. En route a spectacular thunderstorm cut loose overhead. Rain sluiced the red cliffs so that in places they looked as if they were gushing blood. Lightning bolts clouted the peaks and ridges, sending great chunks of stone and sand flying into the sky.

Andretti was steering a rented houseboat, "The Quaking Madonna," as he had named it, with one hand and aiming a 35-mm. camera with the other.

"What are you up to?" someone yelled to him from another boat.

"Trying to shoot the lightning just when it hits," Andretti answered, not looking away from the viewfinder.

A few moments later, when a great bolt smacked a peak, Andretti's shutter finger clicked and he turned with a wide grin.

"I think I got it," he said.

It was a fitting gesture: if anyone can capture lightning in midair, it's Mario Andretti.

On Sept. 10 at Monza, Italy, Andretti actually caught the lightning, but he was singed. In his third full season on the Formula I Grand Prix circuit, he clinched the world driving championship, a title he has wanted more than any other in his 21-year racing career. In so doing, he became only the second American ever to win the world's most honored racing crown. Phil Hill, who had won the title in 1961 while driving for Ferrari, cabled Andretti from Santa Monica, Calif.: DEAR MARIO: SINCERE CONGRATULATIONS ON ATTAINING YOUR DREAM OF WORLD CHAMPION AFTER A HARD-FOUGHT AND HONORABLE CLIMB TO THE TITLE. MAY THE FUTURE BRING YOU MUCH JOY AND CONTENTMENT. Dan Gurney, who himself won four Grand Prix races over a 10-year career as one of the most respected drivers on the circuit, wired: WELL DONE, CHAMP. IF ANY FORMULA I GRAND PRIX CHAMPION DESERVES THE TITLE WORLD CHAMPION, YOU GET MY VOTE AND CONGRATULATIONS. IT'S FROM MY HEART, AMICO.

But despite all the congratulations, the victory was a painful one for Andretti. His teammate, 34-year-old Ronnie Peterson of Sweden, died after a horrendous 10-car crash on the opening lap of the race (see box, page 92). "This is no time to think about celebrating," Andretti said. "I just can't begin to talk about the championship at this stage. We worked so hard, so close together this year, to make it all happen, and now it seems a kind of hollow victory. It's been a tragic day all the way around."

With only three of the season's 16 Grand Prix races left to run—the one at Monza, the United States GP at Watkins Glen this Sunday, and the Canadian at Montreal next week—Peterson had been the only driver with a mathematical chance of edging Andretti for the title. To some observers, Peterson's death seemed to taint Andretti's championship, to make it somehow too easily won. But they were not aware of the contract Peterson had signed early this year when he joined Colin Chapman's John Player Team Lotus. "I knew the terms and conditions which I would have to accept when I joined the team," Peterson had said at Zandvoort, Holland two weeks before the Italian race, "and part of the deal was that I was No. 2 to Mario. Now he's in a very good position to take the title, and since I'm the only driver who still has a chance at overtaking him, I won't do anything to present a threat to his chances."

That is the way it is in motor racing, but any suggestion that Andretti's was an easy championship does not take into account the hard facts. Formula I racing is the most demanding test of skill, nerve and judgment in sport. That Peterson was about the 50th person to die at the Monza Autodrome simply underscores the point. Guiding a 1,180-pound open-wheeled race car through traffic on twisting tracks at speeds in excess of 200 mph requires superb reflexes and hairline balance—not to mention total concentration and total suspension of the imagination. Even the best driver in the world is subject to misjudgments on the part of other drivers, and to mechanical failures that, at such high speeds, can be fatal. To this day no one knows why Jimmy Clark, judged by some to be the greatest of drivers, crashed to his death negotiating a long sweeping curve while alone in the lead of a Formula II race at Hockenheim, Germany in 1968. Peterson was judged one of the quickest drivers the sport has ever seen, and with 122 GPs behind him he was also among the most experienced. For example, even Jackie Stewart, three-time world champion with an unmatched record of 27 Grand Prix victories, started only 99 Formula I races in his career.

Andretti, who has started 78 Grands Prix since 1968 (although it is only in the past three seasons that he has been able to run enough of them in a single season to be a serious contender for the points title), has 12 wins. His six victories so far this year equal the most Stewart ever won in a single season. Andretti actually crossed the finish line at Monza ahead of everyone else, but he and Ferrari's Gilles Villeneuve were penalized a minute each for allegedly jumping the restart of the race after the crash. Had his victory held up, Andretti would have tied Clark's record number of wins for a single season. With the two North American races still to be run, the chances are good that Andretti will yet equal or better the mark his predecessor on the Lotus team set in 1965.

But the true significance of Andretti's performance this year gets lost in the welter of numbers and the shadow of Peterson's tragic death. "Mario is not just a champion," argues Phil Hill, outraged at any suggestion that it was a cheap success. "He's a great champion. Mario is a fine, strong, talented driver, a wise driver and a good man." Hill was struck by the similarities between his championship and Andretti's. He won it on the same track, Monza, and on the same date, Sept. 10. And his own Ferrari teammate, Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips, who died that day at Monza, was Hill's only rival for the title. On the second lap von Trips was bumped from behind by Clark, who was driving his first Formula I race ever, entering the high-speed curve called the Parabolica. Von Trips' car caromed off the earthen banking and crashed into the crowd on the far side of the track, killing him and 14 onlookers. Hill went on to win the race and the championship, 34 points to 33.

What makes the Formula I title particularly gratifying to Andretti is that only two years ago many people were saying he was washed up. The golden boy of the late '60s—winner of USAC's Rookie of the Year award in 1965, points champion in '65, '66 and '69, winner of the Daytona 500 for stock cars, winner of the 12 Hours of Sebring for Sports/Prototype racers; in fact, winner at all he turned his hand to—seemed now a has-been. He always was near the top in the Indy car point standings but he hadn't scored many major victories since 1971, when he took a Ferrari home first in South Africa's Grand Prix at Kyalami. Such things are not uncommon in motor sports—under the constant strain of travel, cockpit heat, the view from the ragged edge and the deaths of racing friends, a hot young driver, hungry, quick and ambitious, turns overnight into a burnt-out case. Maybe his hands shake in his sleep. Maybe he drinks or takes dope or chases pit kittens. Maybe he has seen so many crashes that the fire wall between imagination and nerve erodes, and the demons ride his shoulders through every race. Certainly the middle '70s represented a nadir in Andretti's career. Was he spooked?

"Nah," he says, "I just had bum rides." And he laughs.

But of course there is more to it, things that take shape only within the contours of a career.

He has wanted it from childhood: the world championship. Mario Gabriele Andretti was born 38 years ago in Montona, Italy, a village near Trieste, then part of Italy, the elder (by a few hours) of a set of identical twins. His father, Alvise, was a landowner in that harsh country.

After World War II, Trieste was ceded to Yugoslavia, and the Andrettis lost everything. They spent some time in a displaced-persons' camp, which may account for Mario's inability to sit still for very long. Then they moved to Lucca, a city near Florence.

In Lucca, the Andrettis lived across the street from a garage, and the twins, Mario and Aldo, hung out there whenever they could, fascinated with the guts of cars. One year the garagemen took the boys to watch the Mille Miglia pass near Florence. The Mille Miglia was one of the last tough, open-road races. It ran in a great, ragged 1,000-mile circle from Brescia down through the Apennines and back up the coast, over real roads, flat-out, and anything went. That was until 1957 when the Marquis de Portago, driving a Ferrari with an American friend, Edmund Nelson, blew a tire at high speed not 50 miles from the finish, flew over an embankment and killed himself, Nelson, 11 onlookers and the race as well. But to the young boys from Montona, watching the race in an earlier year, there was nothing more exciting—the crowds, the stink of burned rubber, castor oil and sweat, the great roaring noises ripping past, blurs of color within color. They were hooked.

"In those years, local clubs in Italy were sponsoring a driving program for young drivers," Andretti recalls. "You had to be 14 to get in it, but Aldo and I lied about our age and started racing at 13. Our folks were dead set against us racing, so we had to do it on the sly. The only one who knew we were racing was the priest, but we had told him in the confessional, so he couldn't fink on us. We had a motorbike that we shared, and whenever we got banged up in a race—the cars were dinky little things with Fiat Topolino engines and you couldn't really get hurt too bad—we'd tell our folks that we'd come off the bike."

As Andretti speaks, using the argot of the track and contemporary American idioms, there is nevertheless a subtle giveaway that English is his second language. His words come with a staccato rhythm and he pays careful attention to the enunciation of consonants, so that it seems to the listener that everything he says has been thought out and weighed. It is this trait that leads many people to think that Andretti never lets his guard down. In fact, the opposite is the case.

In 1955, Italy was in an economic nose dive, so Papa Andretti moved the family to Nazareth, Pa., where an uncle of Mario's owned a gas station. While Papa went to work in the steel mills, the twins took jobs as pump jockeys with their uncle and saved enough money to buy a 1948 Hudson. In 1958, they again set off racing on the sly, this time on the tiny, tough dirt tracks of eastern Pennsylvania. The boys did well from the start, winning their first couple of races. But then the male fortuna they had successfully evaded in Italy caught up with them in the form of plain old American rotten luck. In his last race of the season Aldo rolled the Hudson and fractured his skull. He was in a coma for nearly a week.

"The truth had to come out, I guess," Andretti says. "But I hated to be the one to spill it. At first I made up some cock-and-bull story about Aldo falling off a truck. But then I had to tell. It was a bad scene. Italian sons do not disobey their fathers, and they sure don't lie to them. For a long time our father wouldn't speak to us."

Aldo raced off and on for 10 more years, but without much luck. In 1969 another accident prompted him to retire. Mario, though, continued nonstop, working his way up through midgets, sprint cars and modifieds, and building a reputation as a hard-charging, win-at-all-costs hot shoe. One day at Hatfield, Pa., on the same track where Aldo had flipped their jalopy, Mario won two midget main events and, that night, at Flemington, N.J., he won another midget race. It was Labor Day of 1963, and after that sweep he felt that he was ready for the big time, for the Indy-type "champ cars." He was 23 years old.

Early in 1964 he got his chance: a ride at Trenton, N.J. for Doug Steady in a classic Offenhauser roadster, his first championhip race on the USAC circuit. He made the field all right, and though he promptly spun out of the race, he went on to finish eighth. "I learned a lesson that day," he says ruefully, "a lesson about speed and tires and road surfaces. It was a rude awakening." Later in the season, when Chuck Hulse was injured in a sprint-car race at New Bremen, Ohio, Andretti hit up Hulse's chief mechanic, Clint Brawner, for an Indy ride in the Dean Van Lines Special that Hulse had been slated to drive. Brawner knew Andretti wasn't ready for Indy—not quite yet—but he was impressed enough by Andretti's performance in a sprint-car race at Terre Haute to let him finish out the season for Al Dean. Andretti did not let Brawner down. He actually led a couple of races and finished with enough points to end up third in the U.S. Auto Club driver standings for sprint cars that year.

Jack Brabham, the Australian Grand Prix driver, had revolutionized Indy racing in 1961 when he appeared at the Brickyard in a tiny, rear-engined Cooper-Climax. The hotshots of American big-car racing had scoffed at first, calling the Cooper a "Tinker Toy" and worse. Yet when Brabham finished ninth in the Memorial Day race, a slow move began toward more stable, quicker-cornering rear-engined cars. Andretti had started for Brawner and Dean in a traditional front-engined roadster that was little different in concept from the Marmon Wasp in which Ray Harroun won the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. In 1965, Brawner made the jump to a rear-engined car based on the Brabham design. He called it a Hawk, and on the first day of qualifying for Indy that May, Andretti proved it could fly. Though still nominally an Indy rookie, he set qualifying records of 159.405 for a single lap and 158.849 for the full four in his initial appearance. Jimmy Clark, A. J. Foyt and Gurney would beat those marks later in the day, but they were known entities. The crowd buzzed with excitement at a new star rising.

Starting fourth on the grid that year, Andretti finished third behind Clark and Parnelli Jones, and became Rookie of the Year. He finished the season with 3,110 points to become the first Indy rookie to take the USAC driving championship since Johnnie Parsons did it in 1949.

He won the pole at Indy the following year, and though he dropped out of the race on the 18th lap with engine trouble, he collected enough points in later races—winning eight of the 15—to take the points championship a second time. He won his third in 1969.

Dean had died in 1967, and Andretti was rich enough by then to buy his whole outfit, lock, stock and supercharger. That also was the year that Andretti began to diversify and beat the NASCAR stars at their own game. Driving a Ford Fairlane prepared by the lightly disguised Ford factory team of Holman-Moody, he won the Daytona 500—stock-car racing's biggest event.

Andretti was becoming known all right, by style as well as by name. And while he was unfailingly deferential to reporters, sponsors and sponsors' pals, he could be demanding when it came to his car. Andretti wanted his Ford to be set up "loose" at Daytona so that he could go deep into the corners and allow the rear of the car to break away. It's a driving technique that requires split-second timing and unceasing concentration. That's why most of the NASCAR drivers do not use it regularly. It is tiring enough to contend with the G forces that come with racing at 180 mph on a high-banked track for 200 laps without asking that a driver delicately flip a car's rear out in every turn as well. But by setting up his Ford in such a way, Andretti also did one other thing in the corners—he used up a lot of track, making passing more difficult. In less talented hands a "loose" car at Daytona would have been an ambitious folly. For Andretti it was a winner.

The next year, Andretti qualified fourth at Indy but blew his engine after two laps and finished badly in some other races, though he placed second in the national championship standings. The big bucks—and especially the hot new four-wheel-drive Lotus-Fords fresh from Colin Chapman's Lotus shop in England—that Andy Granatelli offered Andretti to become a member of the STP team for the '69 season were too tempting to turn down. Andretti did not refuse.

"I don't care what anyone thinks about Andy personally," he says. "You've got to admit that he was a heck of an innovator. The Novis were something else, and so were the turbine cars. He'd been jacked around a lot, by the fates and by the Establishment. He wanted to win that race as bad as I did."

And win it they did, the hard way.

Three days before qualifying, Andretti shed the right rear wheel of his Lotus in practice and smacked the outside wall in Turn Four at 150 mph. The body work flew clear and the car burst into flames. Andretti bailed out with second-degree burns on his face.

Suspicious of the Lotus design, even though it was the fastest car on the track that year, Andretti chose to drive his backup car, another Hawk. He managed to put the car in the middle of the front row, next to pole-sitter A. J. Foyt. The early going was a four-way duel among Andretti, Foyt, Roger McCluskey and Lloyd Ruby. But McCluskey dropped back after running out of gas before his first pit stop, Foyt cracked a manifold intake, and Ruby's pit crew fouled up on a fueling stop. The final 125 miles became merely a matter of Andretti's keeping his car together. When the checkered flag fell, Granatelli sprinted down the pit road like a 300-pound gazelle, enveloped his 5'6" driver in one of history's most memorable abbracci, and then hoisted him to his gargantuan shoulders for the victory lap. At the age of 29, Andretti had reached a pinnacle.

But the Indy win, though it enriched his bank account by $205,727.06 and made his name, seemed to mark a kind of turning point in Andretti's oval-track career. He had been a quick study, an overnight whiz, but now he made a bad decision. He fell out with Granatelli in 1971 and joined the "dream team" put together by Parnelli Jones and Los Angeles tire dealer Vel Miletich. The team consisted of Andretti, who was the 1969 points champion, and Al Unser and Joe Leonard, who had won the title in '70 and '71 respectively.

The dream proved a nightmare. First off, the radically new car, called a Parnelli, simply did not work well. Then Leonard broke a leg in a California 500 race and was finished with racing. Most important, though Miletich and Jones had promised Andretti a full commitment to the Formula I circuit, the road-racing version of the Parnelli failed as dreadfully as its cousin had on the oval tracks.

"I always got on with Parnelli," Andretti says. "He was a racer. But when Firestone backed out of racing in 1975, Miletich began to lose interest, because he felt that he couldn't get the proper backing. He didn't share the enthusiasm I had for Formula I racing. We mutually decided to part ways." Andretti departed for the place he had always wanted to be—full-time on the Formula I circuit with selected USAC rides for Roger Penske's team.

"I used to envy Peter Revson, driving the USAC 500-milers and the whole GP circuit," Andretti mused recently in the lounge of the Oude Bouwes Hotel in Zandvoort. He had just nailed down the pole position for the Grand Prix he would win the next day. His 14-year-old son Jeff was with him, but his wife Dee Ann and the other two children were at home in Pennsylvania. "Revvy had the best of both worlds. It took me a while, but finally in 1976 I was in a position to do the same, and it felt like heaven."

Andretti had offers from three teams—Ferrari, the American-owned but English-based Shadow operation, and from Chapman at Lotus. He had driven endurance races for Ferrari and had even won the South African GP for the marque back in 1971, and certainly there was a strong temptation to sign on with the top Italian outfit. "They always treat me well in Italy," he says. "When I win I'm Italian, but when I lose I'm American." Still, Enzo Ferrari is a notoriously difficult man to drive for, as every top driver from Juan Manuel Fangio to Niki Lauda has learned. The Shadow offer had the American identification going for it, but little else. That left Lotus, but like Andretti, Chapman's team seemed to be on a downslide from its preeminent position in the late '60s. It had not held the Grand Prix championship since Emerson Fittipaldi won it in 1972.

"Still, the more I thought about it," Andretti recalled, "the better the Lotus deal looked. I drove for Colin Chapman in my first GP ever, in 1969 at Watkins Glen, and put the car on the pole. Colin is a great constructor and a top-notch team manager. Also he was going to build this new car, the Lotus 79. He's the only guy in the business who has a grasp of the underside of a car as an aerodynamic surface. Nobody had done much about the bottoms of the machines; they were only concerned with the superstructure when it came to aerodynamics. Colin spent a lot of time and effort on this new concept and you can see the results. The Lotus 79 just flat sticks to the road."

But the new car would not be ready for more than a year. Andretti did well enough in the old one. In the rain at Mount Fuji for the Japanese Grand Prix, the last race of the 1976 season, he sloshed home ahead of everyone to nail down sixth place in that year's points championship. "You couldn't see a thing on that track at the start," he recalls. "Fog and rain, rivers as deep as the Delaware across the road. You had to drive by feel, and it felt damned scary."

Last season Andretti won four more GPs—in Long Beach, Spain, France and Italy—and finished third in the point standings. When the 1978 season began, both Andretti and the new car were ready. Actually Mario was ready sooner, because the Lotus 79 didn't make its first official appearance until the Belgian GP toward midseason, but he had been doing extensive testing for most of the year, in close secrecy.

The rest, as they say, is for the record books: victories in Argentina, Belgium, Spain, France, Germany and Holland; a second place at Long Beach; a fourth in Brazil; the controversial sixth at Monza; a whopping great total of points (64 in all thus far); and the championship.

It's all been paid for, though, in travail, both physical and psychic. Thus far this season Andretti has logged over 250,000 miles and enriched the coffers of various airlines by more than $30,000 in traveling the GP circuit and running seven USAC races for Penske. Even between races Andretti keeps on the go as a limited partner in the brokerage firm of John Muir & Co. as well as franchising himself via Mario Andretti Grand Prix International (four tracks for mini Grand Prix cars) and a fast-food chain called Mario's Italian Way. Dee Ann, whom Mario has known since high school, does not care much for extensive traveling. "She'd rather stay up at the lake," Andretti says, referring to his 630-acre country home in the Poconos. "Anyway, the weather's been lousy this summer in Europe."

As a result of his wife's stay-at-home proclivities, and the overtouted glamour of the GP circuit, gossip writers have speculated long and erroneously about the off-track activities that Andretti's nomadic life-style permits. "They make it sound like Dee Ann and I have some sort of 'European understanding,' that I mess around," he says. Rather, Andretti is a man of impeccable discretion, a paragon of the proud Italian father and husband. Any suggestion that he is a loose-living man completely misses the mark.

There have been dozens of good drivers over the years on the Grand Prix circuit, and a handful of great ones. Where does Andretti fit in the rankings?

Up near the top, thinks Gurney, whose four GP victories marked the previous high total for an American driver. "Mario has a fund of experience that may be second to none," says Gurney. "Among his peers there's always been great respect for his talent, his desire and his commitment to being a champion. His reputation among his fellow drivers isn't one of great virtuosity but rather of great determination. He still has that youthful drive. He runs a car hard—heck, he runs it off the road a lot, and he runs very close to the wall at places like Indy. He still breaks cars, but that's part of the game. He's admired, respected, and he keeps growing. With luck he'll end up one of the best—one of the best five or six drivers ever."

Penske echoes Gurney and then some. "Mario wants to do the job right," he says. "He's got the desire of a guy in his early 20s. The key thing about him is his enthusiasm. An hour or so after a race, even if we've broken and lost, he's talking about the next one and what we should do to get ready for it. Also he has tremendous loyalty. The fact that he stayed with Vel and Parnelli as long as he did, when he could have been elsewhere, speaks for it, as does the fact that he stayed with Lotus this year when, as I heard it, Ferrari made him a great offer."

What about the charge that Andretti is a car-breaker, too hard on equipment?

"He drives a car ten-tenths," says Penske. "If you don't have a car that can take it, then get a lightweight to drive it."

What impresses Penske most is Andretti's uncanny "street sense," his ability to sort out a racing machine and set it up for the conditions of any given track. Penske had one of the best sorters ever in Mark Donohue, who died three years ago in Austria when he crashed during practice for the Grand Prix at Zeltweg. Donohue was an automotive-engineering graduate of Brown University and had that great educational edge on Andretti, who never went to college. "Mark could analyze a car from an engineer's point of view," Penske says, "and then add to it the driver's feeling. Mario is nearly as good, and he does it entirely by feel. Mario's spent the time—time he could well have spent more profitably elsewhere—learning the Formula I courses. Now it's paying off." Penske pauses and considers. "He's the most versatile driver I've ever known."

Stewart, the articulate three-time world driving champion, agrees. "Mario is the guy who gives the mechanics the good info on how to make the Lotuses run fast. He's a marvelous sorter, with a very sensitive touch. But he still has one habit that has gotten him into trouble again and again: he passes on the outside when there's a queue, devil take the hindmost. Most of the times he hasn't finished this year, he's done it to himself. They're the direct result of this all-too-American bullheadedness that he learned on the USAC ovals. He's not very concerned with safety on the track. Back when USAC ordered roll cages be put on all the sprint cars, Mario threatened to boycott sprint racing. In the drivers' meetings, he loses interest when questions of track safety come up. 'Let's race,' he says."

The final word, though, has to come from Phil Hill. Hill is not at all reluctant to move over on his pedestal to make room for Andretti. "He's a neat guy," Hill says from his garage in Santa Monica, where he and a partner restore vintage cars. "He's either tremendously clever or else he's a very square guy, a straight shooter. No, wait. That's unfair. He's a good driver and a good man. I'm sure of it. No one could fake that kind of honesty and openness."

A cold wind mixed with rain blows down I the track. It could be any track, anywhere on the circuit, but it happens to be Zandvoort. In the pits, uniformed mechanics rev the engines of the gaudy cars and the sound has an edge even sharper than the weather. But the noise is muted inside the trailer and the air smells warm with coffee. Andretti leans back in a cushioned corner, his body bulky in a black and gold John Player Lotus parka. His face has grown a bit jowly with all that first-class airline fare and rich European cuisine. And after all, he is 38 years old now. But he is tanned and happy, and his black eyes sparkle more brightly than they have in years as he tells the story.

"Last week after some testing at Monza, a friend asks me to drive this little Fiat 127 back to the Villa D'Este on Lake Como. Ronnie Peterson's following in a 280 Mercedes and I ask him to push me when we hit the steep grade that takes you up into Como. The Swede gets in tight behind me all right and we're bumper to bumper and going like a bat up that hill. Then when we hit the top, I look in the mirror and Ronnie's all scrunched over the wheel—like Jimmy Cagney at Indy in The Crowd Roars—and he's laughing! The guy's gonna keep pushing—downhill!

"So we come pouring off that ridge flat-out, at about 120 miles an hour, and the car ain't built for more than 90, and the motor's going phut-phut-phut and I'm like this"—Andretti saws away at an imaginary wheel—"and then we're coming into this red intersection. I kind of squinch my eyes and pray. Zip-zip! We're through.

"There's a car coming in from the right—a Lancia I think—and the driver's all buggy-eyed, cranking the wheel. He probably figured he was hallucinating. Anyway, when we get to the hotel and shut off the motor, we can't get it started again. Every valve in that Fiat must of been bent sideways." Andretti shakes his head and laughs. "Heck, we took more chances on that ride than we would in 50 GPs."

Peterson had come into the trailer toward the end of the yarn, and he nodded his head, smiling. It is good to remember him that way.

TWO PHOTOSTWO PHOTOSAs a rookie, Andretti drove a Hawk to the 1965 Indy car title. After winning at Sebring in a Ford GT40, he won again for Ferrari in 1970 (above).TWO PHOTOSAndretti's Ford stock car won the Daytona 500 in 1967, but even he—and Paul Newman as sponsor—didn't make the "Honker" a Can-Am winner.