February 28

This Day in History

Automotive

Feb 28, 1940:

Racing legend Mario Andretti born

Mario Andretti, whose name will become synonymous with American auto racing, is born in Montona, Italy, on February 28, 1940. In a career that spanned five decades, Andretti was known for his versatility as a driver, taking the checkered flag behind the wheel of sports cars, sprint cars and stock cars on a variety of race courses. His long list of achievements includes a Formula One World Championship, four Champ Car National Championships (1965, 1966, 1969, 1984), three 12 Hours of Sebring victories (1967, 1970, 1972) and wins at the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 and the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.

As a boy, Andretti spent seven years with his family in an Italian refugee camp after fleeing their hometown, which became part of Communist-ruled Yugoslavia following World War II. In 1955, the Andrettis moved to America and settled in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Four years later, Mario and his twin brother Aldo began racing at a local track in a 1948 Hudson Hornet Sportsman stock car. By the early 1960s, Mario was competing full time. In 1965, he was named Rookie of the Year at the prestigious Indianapolis 500, where he placed third, and went on to win the first of his four Champ Car championships. (Then officially known as United States Auto Club and later known as CART, the series merged with the Indy Racing League in 2008.) In 1967, Andretti won the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR)'s Daytona 500 and also claimed his first victory at the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race. In 1969, he won the Indy 500, as well as his third Champ Car championship. In 1971, he collected his first Formula One victory, driving for Ferrari at the South Africa Grand Prix. In 1978, driving for Team Lotus, he became the Formula One World Champion, just the second American (after Phil Hill in 1961) to do so.

In 1984, Andretti won his fourth Champ Car championship and was also named Driver of the Year for the third time in his career, the only person to receive the honor in three different decades. Andretti's sons Michael and Jeff also became race car drivers, as did his nephew John Andretti. In the early 1990s, all four men competed against each other in Champ Car events, the first family to accomplish such a feat. Andretti's grandson Marco is also a race car driver.

Mario Andretti claimed the last of his 52 career Champ Car victories in 1993. He officially retired from racing in 1994, with a record 67 Champ Car pole positions won and 7,587 Champ Car laps led.

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