Mario Andretti was overwhelmed, and he wasn't even behind the wheel of a race car.
When international racing stars and captains of the motorsports industry gather to fete your accomplishments, it can get a little
“This is the most amazing evening that I’ve ever spent. I’ve never ever experienced anything like this, ever,” the 77-year-old
Andretti said after he was presented with the Argetsinger Award on Thursday night at the Corning Museum of Glass.
The glass trophy is presented for outstanding contributions to motorsports by the International Motor Racing Research Center in
nearby Watkins Glen. Previous honorees were Chip Ganassi, Richard Petty and Roger Penske.
“I feel so blessed," Andretti said. "I’ve gotten so much out of the sport. All of it means I’ve lived the dream. I’m still living it.”
Andretti posted victories at virtually every level of motorsports in a career that spanned five decades. He is the only driver in
history to win the Formula One Championship, the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500.
and four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears in the audience.
Speaker after speaker told stories of being a young fan of Andretti and of the thrill of meeting him years later. Bobby Rahal set
the stage when he said he was a teenage fan.
“Mario was the man,” Rahal said.“He’s not just a great driver. He’s a great gentleman. He’s the greatest ambassador for the
sport we love.”
Ganassi recalled being an 11-year-old asking Andretti for his autograph when he saw the famous driver having lunch at the Glen
Motor Inn in Watkins Glen. Their careers would intertwine.
“Any success I’ve ever attained in the sport, you can draw a direct line back to your mentorship,” Ganassi said.
Franchitti was a fan at an even younger age. He recalled being a 5-year-old, dreaming of some day meeting Andretti. It
happened 19 years later at a race track.
“I was so flummoxed, afterwards I pretty much crashed,” Franchitti said.
Andretti told of his childhood plan to race motorcycles, a plan he thought was dashed when his family moved to Nazareth,
Pennsylvania as refugees from Italy. But one week after moving to the United States in 1959, Andretti and his brother, Aldo,
discovered a race track nearby. His competition career began four years later, racing under age at 19.
“I just wanted to drive and drive and drive,” he said.
And so he did.
Andretti’s debut in Formula One was at Watkins Glen _ he won the pole for the 1968 United States Grand Prix. A decade
later he won the pole again at The Glen and the F1 title.
“I felt so good in the car,” Andretti said about that 1968 start. “It was an amazing day for me.”
When asked how he wants to be remembered, Andretti answered simply: “I’m just a racer.”
On display in the entry outside the museum were two cars from Andretti’s history: the 1964 Kuzma Watson Indy roadster he
drove in the mid-1960s, owned by Lawrence Auriana, and the John Player Special Lotus 79/1, team car to the Lotus 79 that
Andretti drove to his World Championship in 1978, owned by Paul Rego of Regogo Racing. Also on display was the IndyCar
two-seater that Andretti still pilots at IndyCar Series races for fans.
Andretti has supported the work of the Racing Research Center since its opening in 1999. He serves on the Center’s drivers
council and twice has been chairman of the annual membership campaign.