IndyCar And NASCAR Star John Andretti Passes Away
John Andretti, one of the more popular faces of NASCAR and IndyCar, and winner of the 1989 24 Hours of Daytona, has passed away. He was 56 years old.
Andretti was diagnosed with Stage 4 Colon Cancer in April 2017, and though he announced in November the same year that the illness had gone into remission, brutally, in May 2018, he took to social media again to explain that the cancer had spread and he would once again be undergoing chemotherapy.
After a lengthy battle, the news of Andretti’s passing was broken by both Andretti Autosport and John’s godson and IndyCar race winner Marco on 30 January 2020.
John Andretti, born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on 12 March 1963, was a member of one of American racing’s most successful families, a nephew to 1978 Formula 1 World Champion Mario, first cousin to 1991 PPG IndyCar champion Michael, and son of Aldo.
A proven race winner in his own right, John Andretti’s career included wins in series as disparate as IndyCar/CART, NASCAR and IMSA. His first tentative steps on motor racing’s formidable career ladder, after a few years in go-karts, began with cousin Michael at the André Pilette Racing School at Zolder in 1979, and quickly transitioned USAC midget racing. By 1986, he’d made the switch to the IMSA GT Championship, underlining his potential with a dominant win at Watkins Glenn alongside compatriot, Davy Jones. Sports cars would continue to beckon, and in 1989, Andretti took the biggest win of his career with victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona in a Porsche 962 alongside Le Mans legends Derek Bell and Bob Wolleck. The result emulated uncle Mario’s win at the same event in 1972.
With the surname ‘Andretti’ though, an IndyCar career was all but inevitable, and John Andretti made his series debut at Elkhart Lake in 1987, stunning all by finishing an impressive 6th first time out for Curb Racing. By season’s end, he had three further top 10 finishes to his name, though reliability frustrations meant that he’d claimed only one 8th place when his Curb Racing tenure came to an end in 1988. 6th overall on his only Le Mans start alongside Mario and Michael in an-all Andretti-entered Porsche 962 was the highlight of that year.
After a season with the fledgling Porsche Motorsport, the German marque’s only works IndyCar season to-date as a team, Andretti made the inspired jump to Jim Hall’s Pennzoil-backed outfit for 1991, taking his first CART career win on the first time of asking at Surfer’s Paradise. Three races later, he’d take a career-best 5th at the Indy 500, but by 1993, NASCAR was calling.
Though his time with Hagan Racing was inauspicious, in 1994, John Andretti made history by becoming the first driver to compete at the Indy 500 and NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte on the same day. In 1997, now in a Cale Yarborough Motorsports-entered RCA Ford Thunderbird, Andretti took his first NASCAR win in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. A happy stomping ground, it seems.
After taking victory number two at Martinsville in 1999, John Andretti competed intermittently thereafter, completing his final full NASCAR season with Front Row Motorsports in 2009 before calling time on his tin top career at the 2010 Daytona 500, his 15th entry in the event. Andretti’s final race start came at the 2011 Indy 500, at which he competed, fittingly, for Andretti Autosport.
Alongside his racing duties, Andretti dedicated a great deal of time to ‘Race4Riley’, a fundraising campaign for the Riley Hospital for Children in Indiana. Following his diagnosis in April 2017, #CheckIt4Andretti trended worldwide in an attempt to remove the stigma of regular colonoscopies.
John Andretti is survived by his wife Nancy, and his children Jarett, Olivia, and Amelia. In 2019, 28-year-old Jarett became the seventh member of the Andretti family to contest the Indy 500.
*Images courtesy of Marshall Pruett, AP Mast, Porsche Motorsport, IndyCar.com, NASCAR.com, and John Andretti Twitter