Andretti Remembered For His 1967 Daytona 500 Victory

Mario Andretti, winner of the Daytona 500 50 years ago poses with Harley J. Earl winner's trophy. [Joe Jennings Photo]

Mario Andretti, winner of the Daytona 500 50 years ago poses with Harley J. Earl winner’s trophy. [Joe Jennings Photo]

By Joe Jennings

DAYTONA BEACH – Mario Andretti was remembered this weekend for his victory in the Daytona 500 in 1967. Daytona International Speedway official invited the popular driver to attend as an Honorary Race Official. While his duties weren’t specified, it could well have been to serve as a roving goodwill ambassador for racing.

Throughout the weekend, Andretti mingled with fans, signed hundreds of autographs, circulated with racing insiders and officials and delighted the media with his willingness to answer and all questions.

In 1967, Andretti came to Daytona as an underdog and an outsider, but once he settled in, he got up to speed and showing his driving skills, much to the chagrin of the stock car regulars. Driving a Ford as a teammate to Fearless Freddy Lorenzen, he got the message quickly that he was hired to play a second-fiddle role. That role did not sit well with Andretti and once he resolved his car issues, his motivation took over and he became a force to be reckoned with.

Thanks to Donnie Allison, who tipped him off that his practice engine was down 400 revs to that of the others, he got his situation rectified with a new engine for the race. He was ready too, putting on a memorable performance while riding high and sometimes sideways while nearly grazing the wall.

Some say Andretti’s style of driving may well have intimidated the establishment but for whatever the reasons, the hard-charger’s determination to succeed surpassed that of his foes, including Lorenzen, and he walked away with the victory – 50 years ago Sunday.

During the post-race victory dinner, Jake Elder paid him the ultimate compliment when he said, “Today, you drove as close as anyone I have ever seen to that of Fireball Roberts.”

Andretti regards the Daytona 500 as one of his most important victories. Two years later, the Pennsylvanian won the higher profile Indianapolis 500. Today he regards the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500 to be on the same footing, calling them “the crown jewels of racing.”

While many focus on Andretti’s wins and championships, he had his share of misfortunes, losing out in the waning moments to gremlins or circumstances beyond his control. On a long flight to South Africa a while ago, the star driver replayed his losses over in his mind, thinking to himself, “I wonder what one gallon of fuel would have meant to me career-wise and my belief is that (I lost) four Indy car races, two Formula 1 races and one Indy car and one Formula 1 championship but for the lack of a few ounces of fuel.”

In the eyes of the racing world, Andretti will always be remembered as not only a champion but one of the greatest drivers ever to don a helmet.

And he’s still going strong as he proved over the weekend and just two days shy of his 77th birthday.

Share Button