February 2, 2020
John Andretti one of the good guys
I had planned to take this Sunday off to concentrate on the Football Sunday activities at church, however, the passing away of John Andretti from a four-year battle with colon cancer changed my mind. I do not know John personally. I had not met him or talked to him but know something about him through fellow motorsports writer, Brad Winters, Columbus, Indiana.
I asked Brad to share some thoughts about John who had raced in multiple forms of motorsports including in May 1994, the first to attempt “The Double”. Andretti raced the Indy 500 (placed 10th) and the NASCAR Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte, North Carolina (finished 36th) on the same day.
His 24 year racing career also included driving a AA/FD Top Fuel dragster, the Taco Bell Express in 1993 for Jack Clark. He reached the semi-finals in his first national event at Atlanta during the FRAM Southern Nationals, clocking a career-best speed of 299 mph (481 km/h). In that race he beat 1992 T/F Champion Joe Amato in Round 1 and Mopar Express Lube driver Tommy Johnson Jr. in Round 2, but lost to Mike Dunn in Darrell Gwynn’s La Victoria Salsa Car in the semi-finals. That race was won by Eddie Hill.  Wikipedia
Andretti won the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in a Porsche 962 with Bob Wollek and Derek Bell. He also competed a multitude of high level sports car races.
In NASCAR, Andretti was actively racing in a wide variety of teams from 1993 to 2010, most famously in the Richard Petty #43 with who he won in Martinsville 1999. This was his second, and last win in NASCAR. His first win was in the #98 Cale Yarborough owned and RCA sponsored Ford.
In April 2017, Andretti disclosed that he had stage four colon cancer.[ His cancer battle, originally misdiagnosed as Stage III-A cancer, was widely publicized, with him starting a Twitter hashtag called #CheckIt4Andretti, as far as getting a colonoscopy. After months of chemotherapy, Andretti was deemed cancer-free in late 2017. However, in May 2018, he suffered a relapse of the cancer, which metastasized even further. He went through another round of chemotherapy for the rest of the year, which ended in January 2019. The cancer relapsed yet again in late March 2019. Wikipedia
Andretti was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania March 12, 1963 the son of “Corky” and Aldo Andretti, brother of Mario Andretti. John was part of the Andretti onslaught in CART when four family members Michael, Mario, Jeff, and John competed together.
In the 1991 Milwaukee Mile the Andrettis became the first family in motorsports history to finish one, two, and three, Michael, John, then Mario.
Good stuff, but what he did outside of racing mattered more
Here I yield to writer Brad Winters firstname.lastname@example.org from his 2019 Indy News, The Heart of John Andretti:
“Several years ago I received a call from Rich Hensley, a pharmacy rep in Kansas. He had found my number in the back of a ‘Chicken Soup For the NASCAR Soul’ book. He told me about a young boy for whom he made deliveries several days a week. Rocky was a four-year old NASCAR fan with cancer and Hensley asked if I could possibly have a driver call him.
I called John Andretti and told him the situation and John said, ‘let me see what I can do and I will get back with you.’ A week later John and his coach driver, Skip, entered a trailer park in Liberty, Missouri and knocked on a door.
For the next several hours John and Skip played video games with Rocky and his family and shared several gifts John had brought with him. The only thing John asked me to do was not call the media. He wanted this day to be just for Rocky and his family.
John kept in touch with the family and when Rocky lost his battle with cancer, John offered to pay for the funeral but found it was already taken care of by some friends of the family. Inscribed on Rocky’s grave marker is the number ’43’ John Andretti car. Rocky’s mother, Terri, said the visit from John was the greatest gift the family ever received.
In 2011, John shared an idea with his longtime and loyal sponsor, Window World, in an effort to raise money for St Jude’s Children’s Hospital. His idea was to take a racecar around the country and get all the living drivers who have raced in the Indianapolis 500 to sign the car.
Window World agreed to pay for Dallara to make the car. John then traveled thousands of miles across the country hauling ‘The Stinger’, named after the Marmon Wasp, which won the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Four years and 249 signatures later the car sold at auction for $900,000 with all proceeds going to St. Jude’s.
Corey Sears suffers from cerebral palsy, and thanks to a risky surgery, is able to walk without braces. In 1996, John heard about Corey and offered to drive Corey around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track.
Corey jumped at the opportunity and quickly found a friend in Andretti. John has kept in touch with Corey and his family for the last 22 years, calling, texting or sending emails to Corey. ‘John is one of the kindest men I have ever known,’ Corey says. ‘He reached out to my family 22 years ago and I have been blessed by his friendship ever since. In a world where athletes go out of their way to avoid people, John is just the opposite. Countless other children and families can say this. In a world that desperately needs more kind and genuine people, John is just that for so many of us.’
1996 also started an annual tradition for John that has raised over $4,000,000 for Riley Hospital for Children. Dave “The King” Wilson hosted a radio show on WIBC and John was a frequent guest. Matt, the producer of the show, would taunt Dave and say he could beat John in a race.
Dave decided to have his producer ‘put up or shut up’ and he arranged for John and Matt to have a go-kart race to silence Matt once and for all. The outcome was expected but what was not expected was the beginning of a yearly tradition, the Race4Riley, that would change the lives of hundreds of young children.
Last year the events raised over $533,000 with every penny going to Riley. This week will host the 22nd Race4Riley events starting with a go-kart race Wednesday at New Castle Motorsports Park and a progressive dinner Thursday night with some of Indy’s top restaurants.
General Mills was an early sponsor of the events and Kroger, Pepsi and Window World continue to be longtime sponsors for the events. Nearly everything is donated so Riley sees all funds go directly to them. This year John and Dave hope to raise over $700,000 yet Dave states that more is always needed. Riley treats over 300,000 children annually and $700,000 accounts for just over $2.00 a child. Every penny helps. Donations can be made at all Indiana Kroger stores. For more information on Race4Riley go to race4riley.com.
This year will be a little different for Race4Riley. John is not expected to attend the weeks events. His son, Jarett, also a driver, will stand in for his father just as he did last year. In February of 2017 John announced he has stage four colon cancer. He has completed 17 rounds of chemo and will receive another round this week. His spirits are good as he continues treatment. Yet, in Andretti style, has used this new platform to raise awareness of colon cancer and to encourage all adults over 50 to get a colonoscopy with his #checkit4andretti campaign. It is already saving lives with early detection.
John continues to be one of those rare humble men who are ‘jealous for, and not jealous against’ the people he meets. He ‘runs to and not from’ the pain and sorrow of others. It is my hope you are encouraged to reach out and touch a heart. You do not have to be famous. We can all make a difference and it starts with one touch.”
Our prayers continue to be with John, his wife Nancy, and his children, Olivia, Amelia and Jarett.
Daytona Speedweeks begin Thursday February 6
Now that the Super Bowl is over, we can get down to racing once again in the Daytona, Florida area. Speedweeks 2020 gets underway this Thursday February 6 when the ARCA garages open for business. Races continue through the first weekend and pick up again on Thursday February 13 through weekend number two. Stock car racing at Daytona concludes with the 62nd annual running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday February 16 at 2:30 pm on Fox.
The Daytona area is teeming with races on the local short tracks including the 1/2 mile dirt Volusia Speedway http://vspracing.com/and 1/2 mile paved New Smyrna Speedway http://www.newsmyrnaspeedway.org/. Check out their websites for complete schedules and which NASCAR drivers might be making appearances at their track.
Do not miss the beautiful front stretch turf art completed by the County’s own Jason Griffeth.
Tame the Track Tour continues near Sugarloaf next weekend
Let’s go racing!
Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)