Mario Andretti was born on February 28, 1940, in Montona, Italy (now Motovun, Croatia). The end of World War II brought changes to the Andretti family because their town became a part of communist Yugoslavia. Once the family secured immigration to the United States, Mario became deeply involved in car racing. Andretti became one of the most successful race car drivers of all time, winning multiple titles and races throughout his multiple decade career.
Mario Gabriele Andretti was born in Montona, Italy (now Motovun, Croatia), on February 28, 1940. Over the course of his five-decade career, Andretti became one of car racing's best drivers. His resume includes three Driver of the Year awards (1967, 1978 and 1984), and he's the only driver to win the Daytona 500, Indy 500 and Formula One titles.
For Andretti, who has a twin brother, Aldo, childhood had its challenges. Family life was turned upside down not long after the boys were born and Mussolini sided with Hitler in World War II. The end to the conflict only brought more turmoil for the family, whose home became a part of Yugoslavia and fell under Communist rule.
The Andrettis quickly left, finding safety in a refugee camp, where they lived for seven years beginning in 1948. In 1955 the Andrettis secured a visa to the United States and in June of that year settled into their new home as best they could in Nazareth, Pennsylvannia. Nobody in the family spoke English and they had just $125 to their name.
For Andretti and his brother Aldo, car racing had become central to their lives before they had moved to the U.S. and Mario idolized the Italian driver Alberto Ascari. In their new country the Andretti boys continued to feed their passion. Mario took a job in an uncle's garage, and in 1959, along with his brother, began racing stock cars at a nearby track.
The young drivers claimed some early wins, though in the last race of that first season, Aldo suffered a bad accident and fractured his skull. He continued to race another ten years before another crash, this one causing significant facial injuries, forced him to retire.
Mario, however, could not be slowed. His father detested his racing—he only discovered his boys' affinity for the sport after Aldo's accident in 1949—and stayed away from Mario's races until 1964.
As quickly as he could Mario not only found new sprint and midget car races, but often times won them. He joined the United Racing Club in 1961, then two years later was racing with the American Race Drivers Club, racing midgets throughout the east. In 1964, the same year he officially became an American citizen, Andretti became a member of the U.S. Auto Club and started competing in some of the country's best races.
Just a year into his tenure with the club Andretti raced in his first-ever Indianapolis 500, taking third and earning the Rookie of the Year title. The next several years would prove to be incredibly fruitful for the young driver. He captured NASCAR's Daytona 500 in 1967, then a year later, ventured into Formula One territory, taking hold of the pole position in his very first race.
In the late 1960s nobody was a better a Indy car racer than Mario Andretti. After two-straight second-place Indy car championship finishes in 1967 and 1968, Andretti earned top honors in 1969 with nine total victories.
In the mid-1970s, Andretti focused a lot of his attention on Formula One racing. The pinnacle of this period came in 1978, when he became just the second American (Phil Hill was the first, in 1961) to win that sport's world championship.
Over the course of the final decade of his career, Mario Andretti was still a force in the world of car racing. In 1984, just two years after returning to Indy car racing, he won the championship, his fourth Indy title. Just seven years later, he nearly captured a fifth, narrowly losing out to his son, Michael.
It was a disappointment Andretti was more than welcome to accept. But others during his career have been harder to swallow. The most famous of those came in 1981, when a Bobby Unser victory at the Indianapolis 500 was overturned after Unser was accused of passing cars illegally while a yellow caution flag was in place. Andretti, who finished second, got the win, then lost it when an appeal board called the Unser punishment excessive and gave him back the title.
In 1994, after more than $11 million in winnings, Mario Andretti retired from Indy car racing. In the ensuing years he's been inducted into multiple halls of fame and was named "Driver of the Century" by The Associated Press and RACER magazine.
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