Super Mario Comeback? At 73, Mario Andretti wants 1 more endurance race with son, grandson

  • Article by: DAN GELSTON , AP Sports Writer
  • Updated: July 5, 2013 - 2:40 PM

LONG POND, Pa. — Mario Andretti wants one more race, family style.

At 73, Andretti has been long retired from racing, and one of open wheels all-time greats hasn't turned a competitive lap since a spectacular crash during practice for the 2003 Indianapolis 500.

Andretti, though, hasn't completely put the idea of one final race out of his mind. He's serious when he says he wants to team up with son, Michael, and grandson, Marco, for an endurance race like the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona or 24 Hours of Le Mans.

"I'd do it," Mario Andretti said. "There's no point in me coming back unless there's a compelling a reason."

And there's no more compelling reason than family ties on the track.

Don't start dreaming of the greatest comeback in motor sports just yet. There's one big hitch.

"Marco would do it. Michael doesn't want to do it," Mario said. "He's much younger than I am and he says he's too old. You figure that out. But if I can convince Michael to do it, I'll do it. I would. I still have the competitive spirit, which is good."

His grandfather's dream of an Andretti reunion seemed like fun for 26-year-old Marco, who posted fast practice times this week at Pocono Raceway. The third-generation driver said Mario would be "up to the task," of becoming a tag-team partner in the annual races.

"He would start and finish and dad and I would do all the brunt work," Marco Andretti said.

Told Michael had balked, Marco hardly seemed surprised.

"I think dad doesn't love it like me and my grandfather," he said. "He was just very good and he knew he was good. But I think he's really happy and content where he's at and he's doing a heck of a job there, too, as an owner."

Mario Andretti won the Indianapolis 500 in 1969 and went on to a long, brilliant career before he retired from IndyCar in 1994. He last got behind the wheel for a lap in 2003 when he tested a car for Michael at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Andretti's car hit debris left when Kenny Brack's car hit the wall, sending his car flying through the air and flipping end over end. He walked away unhurt.

"I figured, I'm going to meet my creator. I didn't know which way I was going to go," he said. "But I was OK. It wasn't my fault. I was in my element. I was lucky as hell. I landed on the wheels and only got a scratch."

But that was it for Andretti. Even though he won Indy and Michael has celebrated two 500 victories as an owner, the accident is just another part of the "Andretti Curse," that reigns at IMS.

"They always have to talk about something," Mario said. "But we've had great times there, just tough times really finishing when we were dominating. Not only myself, Michael as well. Were we capable of winning multiple times? Damn right."

Pocono, back on the IndyCar slate for the first time since 1989, is a hometown track for the Andrettis, who hail from nearby Nazareth. But Mario's been commuting this week from his house near Lake Wallenpaupack, about an hour north of the track.

He's also keeping busy. Andretti voices a character in the upcoming movie "Turbo," the animated story of a snail with amazing speed who takes on the Indianapolis 500.

While he no longer attends each race, he feels IndyCar can rival or top any series in the world when it comes to quality competition. Even if TV ratings and attendance can use a boost, the on-track product is as strong as ever.

"Look at the quality of racing, just in the last two years," he said. "It's there. It's something you can't predict. When it happens, you just try to enjoy it. It's riveting."

_____

Follow Dan Gelston at www.Twitter.com/APGelston

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