Photo: Chris Jones/INDYCAR

Versatile Racer John Andretti Passes Away at 56

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

John Andretti, 56, passed away after his long and courageous battle with colon cancer Thursday.

The nephew of Mario Andretti has raced in multiple disciplines such as open wheels, dirt sprint cars, stock cars, sports cars and even drag racing throughout his four-decade long career.

Accolades include an overall win in the 1989 24 Hours at Daytona, a single Indy car victory at Surfers Paradise in 1991, and winning two NASCAR Cup Series races while driving for the sport’s greatest legends — Cale Yarborough in 1997 (the only win as an owner) and Richard Petty in 1999 (the last under the Petty Enterprises banner).

In 1994, John made history by becoming the first driver to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 (finishing 10th for AJ Foyt) and Coca-Cola 600 (crankshaft failure resulted in a 36th place finish for Billy Hagan) on the same day. It’s now famously known as the “Memorial Day Double,” as only three more drivers (Tony Stewart, Robby Gordon and Kurt Busch) have pulled off the daunting task since.

The entire motorsports community were stunned of hearing the tragic news. Such as NASCAR President Steve Phelps, who’s statement simply describes John’s ambitions as both a racer and a well-respected human being:

“John Andretti embodied the spirit of a champion and inspired an entire fan base through his courageous battle with cancer. He was a fierce competitor throughout his life, and we are saddened by his passing. The entire NASCAR family extends its deepest condolences and prayers to John’s family.”

Foyt, John’s godfather, shared that as both grew older, their bond grew with them.

“He called me about a week and a half ago and he sounded tired but I didn’t think it would happen this quick,” Foyt said. “When Mario called me, it really caught me off guard. I thought John had more time. John was really a fighter and he fought this long and hard.

“There was no harder fighter than him. It’s a terrible shame. Whenever and wherever they have his service, I’ll be there.”

Perhaps the greatest legacy John leaves behind is his always wholesome, never-give up spirit. Even in his battle for nearly three years, he put smiles on people’s faces with his amazing contributions with Riley’s Children’s Hospital, something that Penske Entertainment Corp. President & CEO Mark Miles, noted when reflecting on John’s passing:

“John Andretti’s skills behind the wheel of any kind of race car were admired by his millions of fans around the world, and he always returned that loyalty and kindness to become one of the most popular drivers of his generation. But John’s true mission was helping others, whether through his countless hours of charity work, especially with Riley Children’s Hospital here in Indianapolis, or by the colon screening campaign he started in April 2017 after he was diagnosed with cancer. John’s positive attitude and selflessness throughout his brave fight inspired all of us and will be a legacy that will continue forever. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Nancy, their three children and the entire Andretti family.”

When Jarett announced at Long Beach last April that he was going to race Indy Lights’ biggest event, the Freedom 100, he shared about his father’s secret mechanical skills to help him out climb the open wheel ladder, but more importantly, an everlasting bond as father-and-son.

“He came Sprint car racing with me last weekend. Goes to the car washes, up till 3 in the morning. I can’t get him to stop,” said Jarett. “I’ve never seen it let him affect him. It’s really an inspiration, so… As far as the dream part, we worked on — we built our Sprint car team together hand-in-hand, just us going to the races together sometimes, him working on the car, me driving the car. He lives with me in the summers for four or five months. We had every meal together.

“He’s a really good mechanic. A lot of people don’t know that about him, but he’s an extremely talented mechanic. He can get on a lathe, do stuff. He can’t weld, but he can do about anything else. We’ve done it all together. Just to kind of go through this process together, it’s been great. Great to put the McLaren deal together with him, all the other stuff that’s happening. It’s as much of a byproduct of his hard work as it is mine.”

John is survived by his wife, Nancy, his three children (Jarett, Olivia and Amelia), and the rest of the legendary racing family.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. He's also covered Idaho Athletics and high school football as both a writer and videographer. Additionally, he spent 2017 writing several racing columns as an independent journalist. Luis does video and photography, and is a fan of Seattle sports, a music critic and a motivator who wants to impact people's lives.