INDIANAPOLIS — John Andretti carved out his own niche in one of the world’s most successful racing families.
He became the first driver to attempt the Memorial Day double. He won on dirt tracks, street courses and superspeedways. He won an endurance race, competed in dragsters and became an iron man in IndyCar and NASCAR. And he used his platform and passion for racing to help others.
On Thursday, after a three-year battle with colon cancer, Andretti died at the age of 56.
“He fought hard and stole back days the disease fought to take away,” a statement from Andretti Autosport said. “He helped countless others undergo proper (colon) screening and in so doing, saved lives. We will forever carry with us John’s genuine spirit of helping us first and himself second.”
The Pennsylvania native embraced the family business. John’s father, Aldo, grew up racing and his uncle, Mario, became an international celebrity after winning the 1969 Indianapolis 500 and 1978 world championship.
Andretti’s cousin, Michael, competed in Formula One and led more laps in the Indy 500 than any other race non-winner before turning team owner and winning the marquee race five times.
His nephew, Marco, Michael’s son, finished second at Indy as a rookie in 2006 and has since posted four more top-five finishes at Indy.
Jarett Andretti, John’s son, made his Indy debut just last May in Indy Lights. Jarett finished sixth in the race as he became the seventh member of the Andretti family to race at Indy.
“It’s very important for me, personally; me and John are very, very close, we’ve been close our whole lives, growing up together,” Michael Andretti, Jarett’s godfather, said in announcing the deal. “To help bring one of his dreams come true is very satisfying He’s always had a dream to see his son drive for Indy and I am glad we are making it a reality this year.”
The soft-spoken, genteel and popular John Andretti took a different tack in adding his chapter to the family legacy.
Andretti competed in USAC sprint cars on dirt then won the 1989 Rolex 24 in a sports car before moving full-time to IndyCars in 1990. There he started 49 consecutive races over the next three seasons, where his warm personality turned him into a fan favourite.