X

Indianapolis Motor Speedway: The Andretti Curse

Eric SmithCorrespondent IIIMay 4, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS - MAY 12: (L-R) Michael Andretti, driver of the #39 Andretti Green Racing Dallara Honda with his son Marco Andretti, driver of the #26 Andretti Green Racing Dallara Honda and Mario Andretti watch during qualifying for the IRL Indycar Series 91st running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 12, 2007 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Darrell Ingham/Getty Images)
Darrell Ingham/Getty Images

It is once again the month of May and the 100th year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Although the Cubs and Red Sox have stolen many of the newspaper headlines due to their highly publicized curses, the Andretti curse at the Speedway is something that should not go unnoticed. 

The Andretti family has a rich tradition of success.  They’ve had five family members successfully race in the Indianapolis 500 (Mario, Michael, Jeff, John and Marco), but out of those five, only one has come home with a win. That win was accredited to Mario Andretti’s first place finish in 1969.

MARIO

Mario was the first of the family members to race in the Indianapolis 500.  He had a successful career in motorsports away from the Speedway, even winning the Indy Car Championship four times. Other wins include the 1978 Formula One World Championship and the IROC title in 1978 and 1979.  He is also the only driver to win all three of the major racing championships—the Indy 500, Daytona 500 and the Formula One.  He has 109 career wins and was the first driver to exceed the 200mph barrier at the Indianapolis Speedway, which he did in a practice session in 1977.

Mario Andretti (USA) in action at the 1990 Long Beach Grand Prix.
Ken Levine/Getty Images

Mario is in the IMS Hall of Fame Museum, International Motorsports Hall of Fame, Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, National Sprint Car Hall of Fame and Automotive Hall of Fame.  Additionally, he has been named driver of the year three times throughout his career.

It is amazing that throughout all of these successes, Mario Andretti has only won the Indianapolis 500 one time. 

From 1911-1968, the second starting spot produced the most race winners in the Indianapolis 500.  In 1969, Mario added to that statistic by starting in the second starting spot and winning the race. It was the 10th time a driver started in the second starting position and won the Indy 500. It was the last time a second position driver would win the Indianapolis 500 until 2006. Perhaps, it is an Andretti Curse of the second position?

Here’s a list of misfortunes for Mario in the big race:

1966 - Avoided a big 11 car pile up at the start to lead 16 laps but dropped out after 27 laps with a bad valve

1967 - Loses a wheel and dropped out after 58 laps.

1968 - Dropped out after only two laps with a bad piston and finished last.  Once he was out, he climbed into his teammate’s car to drive in relief.  He dropped out after 24 laps in that car with another bad piston.

1969 - During practice, Mario wrecked and suffered severe burns to his face.  He still managed to qualify for the front row of the 500.  His twin brother Aldo stood in for him for the qualifying pictures due to his severe burns.  Mario ended up winning the race this year, but Aldo suffered a severely fractured face in a career-ending sprint car accident a few months later.  Karma?

1971 - Wrecked in Turn 3 after 11 laps and finished 30th

1972 - Runs out of gas with six laps to go

1973 - Mario completes only four laps with a bad piston.

1974 - Dropped out early once again after two laps with a bad valve and finishes 31st

1975 - Skipped the Belgian Grand Prix to race Indy but wrecked on the backstretch.

1978 - Went eight laps down early in the race due to a bad spark plug wire.

1980 - Dropped out and finished 20th

1981 - Finished second to Bobby Unser.  The following day, Unser was penalized one lap for  passing cars under the yellow flag, and Mario was declared the winner.  Penske, the car owner for Unser, appealed the decision, and four months later, the race restored Unser as the winner.

Mario and Michael Andretti (USA) pose for a portrait at the 1991 Phoenix Grand Prix.
Gary Newkirk/Getty Images

1982 - Wrecked at the start with Kevin Cogan and was out before the green flag dropped.

1983 - Joined Newman/Hass and ended up out of the race due to a wreck.

1984 - On his first qualifying lap, he set a one-lap track record.  After three laps in qualifying, he was heading for the pole position, but his car quit coming off Turn 4 and coasted across the finish line.  He ended up starting sixth.  He was dominate on race day, but mechanical trouble forced him out of the race late.

1985 - Danny Sullivan passes Mario for the lead on lap 120 but immediately spins.  Mario avoided contact and regained the lead.  With 20 laps to go, Sullivan passed Mario cleanly this time and ended up winning.  Mario finished second.

1986 - Qualified fifth but wrecked his car in practice and was forced to start in a backup car in the back of the field.  He lasted only 19 laps and finished 32nd.

1987 - Dominated the race and the whole month.  He won the pole, pit stop competition and the daily practice speed chart everyday.  He led 170 of the first 177 laps.  His race ended with 23 laps to go with electrical failure, and the family rival Al Unser won his record-tying fourth Indy 500.

1988 - Was the fastest driver in practice all week, leading the charts at 221.565 mph.  On pole day morning, Mario drove a lap of 220.372 mph.  On his qualifying attempt, though, he could only get to 214.692 mph.  No one knew what happened to the car and why it went so slow.  On race day, he had just as bad of luck.  Thirty laps into the race, a gearbox failed and created an oil leak. 

1989 - Around the halfway mark, was forced to pit with throttle problems.

1990 - Dropped out with engine problems on lap 60.

1992 - Crashed in Turn 4 and suffered broken toes and taken to Methodist Hospital.  A few moments later, Mario’s son Jeff shattered both legs in a wreck and was also taken to the same hospital.  Both required rehabilitation.  Michael was leading the race towards the end, but with 11 laps to go, his car quit, and family rival Al Unser Jr. won the race.

1993 - Grabbed the provisional pole early in the day, but Arie Luyendyk stole the pole from Mario in the final hour.  On race day, he led the most laps, but while leading on lap 134, he was penalized for entering the pits while they were closed. It dropped him to second, but with 50 laps to go, he developed a bad handling race car and slid to fifth.

1994 - Mario’s last 500; he dropped out early due to mechanical problems.

2003 - On April 23rd, Mario tested Tony Kanaans’ car at the Speedway for a tire test.  Tony wasn’t cleared to drive due to a radial fracture he suffered a week earlier in Japan, so Mario helped out since Tony was driving for Michael Andretti’s team.  It was the first time in almost 10 years Mario was behind the wheel of an Indy Car. 

He was testing at over 212 mph all day, but with literally two minutes left in the session, Kenny Brack wrecked in Turn 1, and Mario didn’t know and ran over a piece of debris.  Mario was sent airborne and flipped several times in the air at over 200 mph.  He was higher than the fence, but luckily, landed right side up on the track and escaped serious injury.

MICHAEL

Michael Andretti is the son of Mario Andretti, and, unfortunately, he has had just as bad luck at the Speedway was his father.  He had a very successful racing career but could never pull out a win at the 500.  He currently holds two records at the Speedway: most completed laps without winning a race and leading the most laps without winning the race.  Here is a look at some of the bad luck he has had at the Speedway.

1985 - Michael and his teammate Kevin Cogan ran well in the 500.  It was Michael’s second 500-mile race at the Speedway, and he finished in eighth place, respectfully.  Luck would have it, later in the year, Michael and Kevin were involved in a helicopter wreck, but they both survived.

1986 - Michael started on the outside of the front row, and he dominated the race.  He led the first 42 laps and was the strongest car all day.  A bad pit stop strategy forced him to pit with seven laps to go, and he ended up finishing in sixth place.

1987 - Michael’s car caught on fire in the pits early in the race, and he was forced to drop out due to a CV joint failure.

1989 - It was Michael’s first year with Newman/Hass racing.  He joined his dad for the first time as a teammate.  He was leading most of the second half of the race and appeared to be on his way to the win, but at lap 160 of 200, his engine blew on the front stretch.

1990 - Had a brake fire early in the race and forced him out of contention early.

He led 97 laps out of the 200 and was well on his way to his first Indy 500 win. He had a considerable lead late in the race and was even in the lead by over 15 seconds at one point, but once again, a bad pit strategy led him to fall behind and pit with less than 20 laps to go. 

Luckily, a yellow flag came out, and it bunched the field back up.  He took the lead on the ensuing restart with 13 laps to go by passing Rick Mears in Turn 1.  Learning from the first place contender, Mears used the same maneuver on Michael and ending up taking the lead and the win. Michael had to settle for second place.

1991 - Michael was the class of the field for most of the cold day.  He led 160 of the first 189 laps.  Within the last 20 laps, he held a half of a lap lead over second place.  With 11 laps to go, a fuel pump went out on his car, and he stalled and finished in 13th place. It was just another 500 that got away.

1995 - Michael was having yet another good day, but on the 77th lap, he brushed the wall in Turn 4 while leading and was once again out due to damage to his suspension. 

2001 - Michael returned to race at the Speedway after competing in CART from 1996-2000. As the rain began to fall on the track halfway through the race, Michael was in the lead.  If the race would have been called due to rain, he finally would have won the Indianapolis 500.  As luck would have it, the red flag didn’t come out, and they just went on under caution.  The race resumed as Michael suffered a punctured tire, and on his way into the pits, he had a collision that forced him to slow down even more.  He had to settle for a third place finish.

06 May 2002: Team Green Motorola/Archipelago driver Michael Andretti gets ready to step into his Chevrolet Dallara for the practice session for the 86th running of the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana. DIGITAL I
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

2003 - Michael announced this would be his final 500.  After leading 28 laps in the race, he was forced out by a mechanical failure just before the halfway point. 

2004 - Became a team owner of AGR, and his team was very successful on race day.  They were running second, third and fourth at the end of the race. A dangerous rain storm hit the Speedway area and forced the race to end early leaving them no time to take the first place finish.

2005 - He finally broke through and got to Victory Lane as a team owner.  Dan Wheldon brought home the No. 26 Jim Beam Honda to the checkered flag in the 500.  He went on to win the Indy Car Series Championship that year but left at season's end to join the Chip Ganassi Racing in the No. 10 Target Honda.

He came out of retirement to race in the 500 with his son Marco.  On lap 194 of the 200, after a yellow flag pit stop, Michael inherited the lead with his son, Marco, close behind in second. It appeared to most that the Andretti family was going to break the curse and take home the win. With three laps to go, Marco passed his father and took a fairly large lead. Unfortunately, Sam Hornish Jr. caught Marco on the final lap on the front stretch, passed him and won the Indy 500, making it the second closest finish in the 500’s history.  Marco and Michael had to settle for second and third. 

With such a good run the year before, Michael decided to come back and try Indy one more time. He was never much of a threat and finished in 13th place. This was his last Indy 500 as a driver. Even though he didn’t take home the win as a racer, he did come home with a win as an owner when Dario Franchitti drove the No. 27 AGR Honda to the win.  Just like in 2005 with Dan Wheldon, Dario ended up winning the Indy Car Series Championship and ended up leaving to join Chip Ganassi Racing at season's end.  Dario is currently driving the No. 10 Target Honda like Wheldon drove when he left.

MARCO

Marco is the son of Michael and the grandson of Mario.  He too hasn’t had the best of luck at the Indianapolis Speedway.  His first Indy 500 was in 2006, and like the rest of his family, he has had some serious misfortunes at this track.

2006 - Marco drove for his dad's team AGR.  He was a rookie in the big race and spent all month learning from the best. Everyone knew he was set up for a chance to win in the end.  He came out of the pits in second place, on lap 194, behind his dad. By lap 198, he had passed his dad for the lead, but as luck would have it, Marco was passed by Sam Hornish Jr. at the finish line. He finished in second place in the second-closest finish in Speedway history.  Remember the No. 2 jinx for the Andretti family?  Marco drove the No. 26 car to a second place finish in the second-closest finish in Speedway history. 

2007 - He led for most of the race. Unfortunately, Marco was caught up in a huge crash with Dan Wheldon on the backstretch and was flipped upside down sliding to the grass.  Luckily, Marco was unhurt, but once again, he left the Speedway disappointed.

2008 - Marco was scary fast.  He posted the fastest lap of the month the morning of pole day, but for some reason, he couldn’t find that speed in qualifying and ended up starting seventh.  Marco was once again strong on race day, but on lap 156, he had to pit and the crew made an adjustment to his wing.  The change made him noncompetitive, and he had to muscle his way to a third place finish. 

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 04:  Marco Andretti, driver of the #26 Team Venom Energy Andretti Autosport Dallara Honda, stands on pit road during qualifying for the IZOD IndyCar Series Firestone 550k at Texas Motor Speedway June 4, 2010 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (P
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

2009 - In the first turn of the first lap, Marco was involved in an incident with Mario Moraes.  He was out of the race before ever hitting the second turn.

JEFF

Jeff is the son of Mario and Michael’s brother.  He only drove in the 500 three times, and like his brother and dad, didn’t have much luck.  His first race was in 1991, and he could only muster up a 15th place finish.  A year later, in 1992, he caught the bad luck when he had brake and back rotors problems all day.  A little after halfway, his right rear wheel hub broke, and his car wrecked violently into the wall; he severely injured both legs.  He again returned to Indy in 1993 and became the first driver to spin in the newly added warm-up lanes.  He struggled in the 500, and his day ended with him crashing out.  That would be the last time he ever drove in the 500.

JOHN

John is the son of Mario’s twin brother Aldo Andretti.  He is Mario’s nephew and Michael and Jeff’s cousin.  He’s had a longstanding career in motorsports but shares the same luck, or lack there of, as the rest of his family in the 500. 

1988 - His rookie year, he dropped out after 114 laps due to engine failure.

1989 - He spun exiting the pits, and a short time later, was forced out of the race due to an ignition failure.

1990 - Brushed the wall on lap 136 in Turn 4.  Ended up spinning in Turn 1 and was out due to suspension damage.

1991 - 1994 Finished every 500 but never was a factor in the race in those years.

2007 - Returned to Indy for the first time in an Indy car.  He lost his mirror early and crashed close to the halfway point.

2008 - Once again, he ran in the race but wasn’t a factor and finished 16th.

2009 - Had a tough month and forced to qualify on bump day. He was off the pace all day and was the last car on the lead lap finishing 19th.

It is no doubt that the Andretti family is one that is highly regarded in the racing world. However, as you have read, the Andretti family has had a horrible string of bad luck at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Their misfortune is definitely a shame because we all know they deserve an Indianapolis 500 victory. Maybe this year, they will break the bad luck streak.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.