Tennessee Racing News
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Auto racing great Mario Andretti to appear at Miller's Tire and Auto Service
by Race Author
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -- Race fans around the East Tennessee and Southwest Virginia region have had the opportunity to meet NASCAR drivers at events such as the annual Food City Family Race Night, held in Kingsport at the MeadowView Conference Resort & Convention Center, and on State Street in downtown Bristol.
Mario Andretti, one of the greatest race car drivers of all-time, will be making an appearance in Johnson City on Monday, May 2 at Miller's Tire & Auto Service, located at 112 Wesley Street between 1:30-3:30 p.m. During Andretti's visit, a "Firehawk" go-kart promotional giveaway will take place, along with many more racing-related items.
Andretti, born Feb. 28, 1940 in Montona, Italy, moved with his family to the United States in 1955. He began his racing career in 1959 when he and his brother, Aldo, brought a 1948 Hudson Hornet to the local dirt track in their hometown of Nazareth, Pa.
He competed in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in 1965 and celebrated his only 500 victory with the "drink of milk" four years later. His last Champ Car win came in 1993 at Phoenix International Racway when he was 53-years-old. Before retiring from racing, Andretti's accomplishments would ensure his place in racing history as one of the most versatile drivers of all time.
It's been discussed by the media, among racers and by the fans, just who is the greatest race car driver of all-time? Furthermore, how could anyone name just one racer as the all-time greatest driver? You probably can't, but it sure makes for interesting conversation among anyone who has a love of motorsports.
In stock car racing you have NASCAR's all-time winningest driver in "The King," Richard Petty.
Some will say the late Dale Earnhardt was the greatest, and you will find some of the relative newcomers to the sport from the last decade who will say Jeff Gordon is the greatest. I know Petty won a lot of races, but a lot of his victories only came down to himself and maybe a couple of other drivers at the most who had equipment to challenge for the win.
I might be told I'm crazy, but I feel that what Jeff Gordon has accomplished is more impressive than what both Petty and Earnhardt did. Look at the victories Gordon currently has, he's closing in on Earnhardt's win total. And championships, Gordon has racked up titles just as Petty and Earnhardt won championships. Not just Petty and Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough were multi championship-winning drivers during their illustrious careers.
Factor in the caliber of the fields of cars Petty raced against, and then look at the fields Gordon has competed against. Even look at the sport as it has evolved from the time Earnhardt, Waltrip and Yarborough won their first titles, to where it is today. None of them raced against the overall fields of cars as tough from 1-43 as what Gordon has in his career. With Earnhardt losing his life at Daytona in 2001, he probably would measure up closer with Gordon than any other driver in NASCAR.
As I said above, Petty basically only had about three or four cars who were capable of battling with him for the victory. Look at today's NASCAR Nextel Cup fields, and you will see where at any given race there are legitimately 30 teams with the equipment to where if they hit on the right chassis setup and make the right calls from the pits, they can win races. There's more sponsor-dollars in the sport today supporting race teams than ever before. And more money for the teams equals better race equipment, plus it allows the teams to hire the best personnel available to work on and prepare the cars.
Gordon racing against 30 other teams capable of winning races, and Petty racing against three or four? Petty is "The King" and always will be, but my nod as the greatest driver in NASCAR history goes to Gordon. I know we're talking about different time-periods in the sport, and who's to say that if Petty was in his prime and racing today that he wouldn't be recording statistics to stack up with Gordon's? I wouldn't bet against Petty being a race-winning driver in today's racing, because it's a given he could wheel a race car. But no way would he capture over 200 career victories.
When the talk of the greatest race car driver of all-time is discussed, you will hear from the open-wheel ranks of Indy-type cars the names of A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti probably the first mentioned. You couldn't go wrong with either one, they both won many races during their long careers along with championships too.
Not only in open-wheel Indy cars, but Foyt and Andretti both came along in racing at a time where they raced sprint cars, midgets, and Silver Crown cars on both dirt and pavement, and stock cars (NASCAR). And they both won races in any type car they strapped in.
It will be debated by some, saying no way was Andretti better than Foyt. But I say Andretti was. Why? Most American motorsports enthusiasts could care less about what goes on in the world of Formula One racing, but look at names like Michael Schumacher, Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, Emerson Fittapaldi, Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Jacques Villeneuve and the late Ayrton Senna. What does Andretti have in common with each of them? He's in elite company with them as a former Formula One world driving champion .
When we talk about American open-wheel racers, Foyt's name is one of the most recognizable along with Al Unser, his brother Bobby Unser, "Big Al's" son Al Unser Jr., Johnny Rutherford, Rick Mears, Bobby Rahal, Gordon Johncock, and Mario's son Michael Andretti. But did any of those racers ever win a F-1 title? No, they haven't.
I'm not saying he is the greatest race car driver of all-time, but look at Mario Andretti's credentials: 1978 Formula One world driving champion (winner of 12 F-1 Grand Prix events during his career, along with capturing 18 pole position starting berths), United States Auto Club (USAC) champion, IndyCar champion, Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) ChampCars champion, 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner, 1967 Daytona 500 winner, 12 Hours of Sebring sports car winner, and winner of the famous Pikes Peak Hill Climb in Colorado.
Andretti is the only driver to be named "Driver of the Year" in three different decades (1967, 1978, and 1984), and is enshrined in four Halls of Fame (International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame, and National Sprint Car Hall of Fame).
If you wish to meet one of the all-time greatest race car drivers, this might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet the legendary Mario Andretti on Monday, May 2 at Miller's Tire & Auto Service.