INDIANAPOLIS – As Marco Andretti puts on his white and gray US Concrete drivers suit on Sunday morning and straps himself into his No. 98 Honda for the 13th time in the Indianapolis 500, he will be doing so with the weight of 48 years on his shoulders. See, Andretti is not just seeking his first Indy 500 triumph, but the first for his family since his grandfather Mario Andretti won in 1969 too.
The name is synonymous with racing. Other than Earnhardt or Petty, no other name means more in the motorsports world than Andretti. Mario Andretti has the second most wins all-time in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He’s won 52 times in INDYCAR competition. His son and Marco’s father, Mario Andretti, is third with 42 victories. Combined, that’s 94 wins. Out of those 94 wins, only one of them was ever at Indianapolis.
Michael Andretti may go down as the best driver to ever compete at Indy but not win. The second-generation star led nine of his sixteen Indianapolis 500 starts for a total of 431 laps, tenth on the all-time list. In terms of overall INDYCAR stats other than wins, he ranks fifth in starts (317), third in top-three finishes (100) and laps led (6,607) and sixth in poles (32).
He and his dad Mario came so close so many times but other than the race in 1969, they never went back to victory lane.
In 2006, Marco came onto the scene and he nearly won the ‘500 in his first ever try. He narrowly lost to Sam Hornish Jr. in a photo finish. Before that, he passed his dad Michael with just a few laps to go. What a story that was shaping up to be. He’s unfortunately had bad luck ever since. He has three third place finishes and seven top 10’s overall at Indy, but no win. Away from Indy, he has just two career wins, one of which coming in his rookie season in Sonoma.
Because of his family’s history at Indy and their overall dominance in the INDYCAR world on all-time lists, the third generation Andretti is being judged in my opinion too harshly. People want him to be his dad or grandpa. Scratch that, they need him to be. When he doesn’t live up to those lofty expectations, ones that were set on two of the all-time greats to not just ever drive in INDYCAR, but to drive any car ever, his name gets thrown through the mud.
He’s not good enough!
He doesn’t deserve to be in the series!
If his last name wasn’t “Andretti” he’d not have a ride!
He hears those things, but he takes them in stride. Imagine living up to those standards in your everyday life. See, despite what people want to say about Andretti, he sometimes agrees. He wants to win. He wants championships. He wants everything you want him to have. But, does he ever just sometimes wish that his last name wasn’t “Andretti” and folks just look at him and judge him off of “Marco” and not “Andretti” because of that.
“I’m working on doing that myself,” Marco told me on if he ever wishes that his name wasn’t Andretti sometimes. “I’m the opposite. I’m the luckiest guy in the world. The way I am myself, I want to win anyway. It doesn’t matter what my last name is.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has said a couple of times that he wishes that his last name wasn’t Earnhardt sometimes. When his father was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the weight of not just Earnhardt Nation but the NASCAR world fell onto the then second year driver. Earnhardt, didn’t have the long racing background that most did. He was a late bloomer into the racing world. He never ran in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series or ARCA growing up. He didn’t have a ton of late model experience either. He ran in the then NASCAR Busch Series full time in 1998 and again in 1999 before moving up to Cup on a full time basis in 2000. Just 40 races into his Cup career, he took all of that load on his shoulders.
Earnhardt never wanted to be his dad. He knew that his dad was too good to emulate. Seven championships and 76 career victories are hard to live up to. Earnhardt Jr. finished his career with 26 wins in 631 races. Two of those wins were in the Daytona 500. That’s a good career for any driver. But, when you’re and Earnhardt, it’s unfairly not. He was being judged against arguably the best there was in his sport and those numbers fall short of expectations from a rabid fan base because of that. Instead of celebrating a great career, he had to fend off that he wasn’t good enough. He didn’t belong. If his last name wasn’t Earnhardt, he wouldn’t have a ride.
It takes a toll on you.
Andretti, he’s going through the same. Has been since Day 1. While the wins are short of his expectations too, it’s not like the fire and desire isn’t burning inside of him. He’s a heck of a race car driver. Always has been. Being competitive in the most competitive series in the entire world and to do so for 13 years is a good career. He’s a great guy on and off the track. He prides himself in that.
Would he have a ride in racing if his last name wasn’t Andretti?
I have no doubt in my mind he would.
But, like Earnhardt, what would the pressures and expectations be if his last name wasn’t Andretti? Would he have more wins? Does the pressure of that name add more of a load to his shoulders to carry?
So, as he climbs into his Andretti Autosport entry on Sunday, all of this is inside of his cockpit too. The guy just wants to win no matter what his name is.