Tuesday, June 29, 1999
Mario Knows Racing
Legendary driver Mario AndrettiBy Joe Edwards
sees big things along the road for
the Hawaiian Super Prix
Tell the truth, now.
The last time someone blew your doors off, driving down the H-3, did you think to yourself, "Hey, Mario, what's the rush?"
It is a rare athlete who is remembered so vividly. Especially after his career is past its prime.
But that's the way it is for Mario Andretti.
Jeff Gordon might be the rage of NASCAR now, and A.J. Foyt might have won more Indy 500s, but Mario Andretti is racing. And with good reason.
The man's biography reads like a story book. Not a fairy tale, mind you. When you spend many of your formative years in a refugee camp in what became Yugoslavia, clearly you've come by your success with a sense of appreciation.
His racing career, on the other hand, is the stuff of legend.
He has won big on every type of track and in every kind of car, from stock cars to sports cars to open wheel.
Daytona 500? Won it.
Indy 500? Won it.
CART title? Won it.
Formula 1 title? Won it.
Driver of the year?
You get the idea.
So, it's no wonder that when organizers of the Hawaiian Super Prix looked for a spokesman, they looked no further than to the man who is widely regarded as the greatest driver in racing history.
"There is no one in racing -- certainly in this country, but also the world -- who is more noted than Mario," Super Prix co-founder Richard Rutherford said. "He's been very enthusiastic since hearing about the race. And he's very articulate. He's a perfect fit."
Andretti is in Hawaii today and tomorrow, getting himself acquainted with the race.
He believes the Super Prix has a shot at eventually giving the Indianapolis 500 a run for its money, so to speak, in terms of racing prestige.
The unprecedented $5 million first prize and $10 million total purse are key ingredients, Andretti said.
"That's what made Indianapolis the biggest race," Andretti said during a telephone interview before leaving for the islands. "You could win more for winning one Indy 500 than you could for three or four other races combined."
Kenny Brack took home $1.46 million for winning at The Brickyard May 29. The total purse was a shade over $9 million, the largest in auto racing, for a few more months.
"This would make Indianapolis step it up," Andretti said.
The large payday and unique format will make for racing that is as exciting as any race, anywhere, Andretti said.
At the Super Prix, drivers will race for an hour, accumulating points with each lap. Drivers will start the second hour according to the points they racked up in the first hour. From there, it'll be flat our racing for an hour with the winner taking the five mil.
"It's not the type of race where you'll say, 'Well, the car's not running well, we'll pick up some points and go to the next race.
"In this race, you'll go for it. If you have to step out of your car and carry it, you will."
Picking a winner will be difficult, Andretti said.
Juan Montoya currently leads CART's FedEx Championship Series by 25 points after winning the Cleveland Grand Prix on Sunday. The 23-year-old rookie from Colombia has won four of the nine races thus far. The top 12 finishers in the points standings will be invited to the Super Prix. The sponsors also will give out four at-large invitations.
Andretti, obviously, is biased toward his son, Michael Andretti, who is fourth in the points standings and is a former series champion.
"I don't know anyone who can race like Michael," Andretti said. "He's always a factor somewhere."
The younger Andretti captured the Motorola 300 at Gateway International Raceway just east of St. Louis last month. He is fourth in the points standings.
"CART possesses the most fertile talent we've seen in the history of our sport," Andretti said. "You have no stragglers to speak of. Right now you could pick a winner out of the top 16 easily."
Take Helio Castro-Neves, for instance. The young Brazilian has led four different races this year, including late in the Homestead, Fla., and Gateway events. Yet he is 16th in the points standings. Mechanical problems have bumped him out early the last two races, costing him precious points.
A word of caution to the drivers from the master, however.
"You don't want to lose concentration (heading into the last lap)," Andretti said, "and start thinking about how you're going to spend the money."