If there’s bad luck to be had at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, chances are the name “Andretti” will be attached to it.
Mario Andretti is one of the greatest race car drivers of all time, the only driver to ever win the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, and the Formula One championship. Following that Indianapolis victory in 1969, Andretti and the rest of his family – sons Michael and Jeff, nephew John, and grandson Marco – have had nothing but bad luck in the race, leading their misfortunes to become known as the “Andretti Curse.”
Following his victory, Mario was kissed on the cheek by his car owner, Andy Granatelli, whose teams had lost the leads of the previous two Indy 500s in the final laps. Many view this action as the beginning of the curse, the aftermath of which saw Mario wreck, have mechanical problems, and have bad qualifying runs in his other attempts. Among the more memorable mishaps:
*In 1982, he was involved in a pace-lap accident with Kevin Cogan. Mario did not even race one lap that day.
*In 1985, Danny Sullivan passed him for the lead, but immediately spun out. Sullivan was able to keep it off the wall, and later came back to pass Mario again and hold on for the victory.
*In 2003, nine years after his “official” retirement, Mario took to the track for a test session in place of Tony Kanaan, a driver for Michael’s AGR team who was injured. Testing went well, leading to rumors about Mario’s possible return to the Indy 500. With minutes left in the test session, driver Kenny Brack crashed, and Mario’s car struck some debris. The car went airborne, doing mid-air flips at over 200 mph and clipping the top of the catch fence surrounding the track. The car came down right-side up and Mario walked away with very few injuries. This, however, was Mario’s last time in an IndyCar.
Sons Michael and Jeff and grandson Marco all won the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year award, but none of them have won the race. Michael has completed and led the most laps of any driver who has never won the race. Among Michael’s mishaps: a pit fire, poor fuel strategy, mechanical problems, and plain-old bad luck.
Grandson Marco had a chance to win in his first start at Indy in 2006, as he led with two laps to go, trailed by his father, Michael, who came out of retirement to run with his son. As hard as Michael tried to block for his son, Sam Hornish Jr. passed him and then Marco for the lead and the victory.
Jeff, Mario’s other son, ran in three 500s – 1990, 1991, and 1993. In 1991, he severely injured both of his legs when his car crashed head-on into the wall. John, the son of Mario’s twin brother Aldo, was the first driver to attempt “Double Duty,” racing in the Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Coca Cola 600 on the same day in 1994. He finished tenth at Indy, but dropped out early in Charlotte.
sources: Ovidiu Panzariu, “The Andretti Legacy in American Motor Racing,” autoevolution.com
Nick Acocella, “Andretti’s only Indy 500 win came in 1969,” sports.espn.go.com
Terry Blount, “Marco unable to shake Andretti curse on Pole Day,” sports.espn.go.com
“Andretti Curse,” wikipedia.org