Andretti controls private loss, pandemic loneliness – WISH-TV | Indianapolis Information | Indiana climate

Mario Andretti is loneliest at night when he’s home alone in his sprawling Pennsylvania mansion and no one can talk to him except Gonzo, his 34-year-old Amazon parrot.

One of the greatest racing drivers of all time is struggling much like so many people around the world during this pandemic that has devastated families and claimed more than 3 million lives.

His sister and wife died months apart in 2018, and perhaps those consecutive losses and the hardship to death inherent in racers used to losing competitors should have prepared Andretti for 2020.

But the blows were just too deep. Just too cruel.

His beloved nephew, John Andretti, lost his three-year battle with colon cancer in early 2020, a death that shook the family. It took about six weeks before the pandemic brought the world to a standstill and Andretti suddenly had nowhere to go.

There is no bigger star on a racetrack than Mario Andretti, the only driver to win the Formula 1 championship, the 500 and the Daytona 500. And when all the racetracks closed, his world became very, very small.

“Before , at least he got out and did things he liked and then he lost all of his endorsements and just sat at home and is there alone. He has to do something on the racetrack to feel alive, ”said Michael Andretti, pointing over the Andretti Autosport Hospitality Center to his 81-year-old masked father, who mingled with the guests at the IndyCar season opener.

The call Andretti had never prepared for came on December 30th when his twin brother died of complications from . Both Aldo Andretti and his wife were infected with the ; She recovered and went home, but he stayed in the hospital, refused to be put on a ventilator, and died.

“Aldo Andretti, my loving twin brother, my criminal partner and my loyal best friend every day of my life, was called to heaven last night. Half of me went with him. There is no eloquence. I’m shaken to the core, “tweeted Andretti.

Andretti said he and grandson Marco traveled to Indianapolis together on December 7 for physical supplies and visited him with Aldo. He found him “comfortable as always” and 23 days later he was dead.

In a nearly hour-long interview at Barber Motorsports Park with The Associated Press, Andretti spoke about emigrating from Italy to Nazareth, Pennsylvania, in 1955 on a Thursday evening. They were WWII children who had grown up in bed and whispered in the dark about Ferrari, Nino Farina and Alberto Ascari, wondering if the Andretti boys might one day have their own chance to be famous racing drivers.

Four days after arriving in the US, they saw the bright lights of Nazareth Speedway, which was hosting a modified race. The brothers were 17, four years old enough to compete, without a car but “driven by passion and love, and as a child you can have your dreams,” he said.

By 1959 they had built a car the two could share. Aldo won the coin toss and the right to take part in the first race. He won.

The Andretti boys drove all year without telling their father. In the season finale, Aldo turned his car over and spent four days in a coma. A decade later, Mario won the only Indy 500 for motorsport’s most famous family. Three months later, Aldo was hospitalized on a dirt road in Iowa after a terrible accident.

Mario got on Andy Granatelli’s private plane, flew to Iowa, and told Aldo that Aldo would never race again. They would buy a tire shop and Aldo would become a businessman, leaving the racing to the rest of the Andretti family.

“I told him right there in the hospital,” There’s a black cloud over your head and if something is in front of you, you will hit it, “said Andretti.” But he couldn’t just walk away from the race. He needed goals and didn’t want one Handout. So he had to have something to do. “

For Andretti himself, who refuses to come out on the racetrack to rest, it’s no different. His son Michael runs Andretti Autosport and grandson Marco decided in January that he no longer wanted to run a full-time IndyCar.

When IndyCar resumed last June, Andretti still had something to do as the driver of the popular Fastest Seat in program, which brings him together with a celebrity, dignitary or influencer in a two-seater who previously took the field into the countryside Run. The program was sponsored by Honda, but ended in an embarrassing fiasco in last season’s finale when an entrant told Andretti that it was his final weekend as a driver.

In reality, Honda ended sponsoring the program, which includes rides for VIPs before the race. Michael Andretti and his sales spent months looking for a company ready to continue the two-seater program, and Ruoff Mortgage made his debut at Barber as a new sponsor.

Ruoff Mortgage has been a partner of Andretti Autosport in the past and debuted in 2017 with Takuma Sato’s Indianapolis 500 winning car.

“I made a joke that I was the sponsor for my father,” said Michael Andretti.

It’s not clear if Andretti Autosport put money from his budget into the two-seater program, but Michael Andretti said his father will “not come here unless he has a reason to come here and I know that I really tried to find something for this program. “

Mario Andretti drove straight from Barber to St. Petersburg, , where the race was held this weekend. His relationship with Michael has never been closer, he said. His other son Jeff lives in Arizona. At home in Pennsylvania, his nearby daughter, Barbie, is constantly making sure he has enough to eat. Marco lives next door and sees him most often, and in this new world of Zoom not a day goes by without an interview request.

At night it’s just him and Gonzo. He said he was talking to the bird and the bird was talking back. He arrived in Nazareth 66 years ago, met Ms. Dee Ann there, loves his home and has no plans to leave.

“You know, I’m lonely and after Aldo I wondered where I should be? What should I do? “Said Andretti.” Should I stick my chin in my socks? Or should I look at the life I left, the children, the family?

“This is my life. I can’t think of any other life to be satisfied with another life that didn’t involve racing. I never had a plan B. So I’m going on.”

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