On the Road – St. Pete

The Wheldon family at St. Pete. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

The Wheldon family at St. Pete. [Photo by Eddie LePine]

By Eddie LePine

One of my favorite events of the year happens to be one of the closest to where I live in Florida – The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. I made the trip from Orlando full of excitement and the hope that the race would live up to its promise as a showcase for new talent. This year’s visit by the NTT INDYCAR SERIES was all that it was cracked up to be – a superb race through the streets and airport of St. Pete, with world class drivers showing what they are capable of doing.

Speaking of world class drivers and legends, I was able to spend some time with Mario Andretti and check out a new edition of prints paying tribute to his last Formula One race for Ferrari. British artist David Johnson has created an outstanding tribute to Mario in the Ferrari to follow up on his previously released limited edition of Mario and the JPS Lotus.

As usual, Mario was gracious and charming as he took time to talk about the prints. Grandson Marco Andretti looked on as Mario discussed driving for Ferrari back in the day. You know, they just don’t make them like Mario anymore. It is always a pleasure to meet with him and listen to his racing stories. What a legend.

Of course, Mario has strong opinions as well, in particular about Formula One. He can see no reason why Colton Herta (who won the St. Pete race in dominating style) should not have an FIA Super license and have the opportunity to race for a top team in Formula One. He believes it would help Formula One really gain a foothold in the US, and with the announcement of the upcoming Miami Grand Prix Formula One race, the timing couldn’t be any better.

Even Mario’s son, Michael Andretti, who has Herta under contract, thinks it would be a good idea – as long as he left to race with a top team, and not a grid filling back marker, where his talents would be wasted. One wonders that if Enzo Ferrari were still alive, Mario would be making a phone call to the Commendatore to plead Colton’s case. And Enzo, who had enormous respect for Mario, would listen!

That is the Andretti family for you – always thinking of the future while paying homage to the past. Mario, the elder statesman and living legend, Michael the son who is one of the top team owners in the sport and grandson Marco, who is looking forward to new challenges in sports car racing. They are all racing royalty.

As evidence of that forward looking vision, Michael Andretti has just signed the late Dan Wheldon’s sons to driver development contracts with Andretti Autosport. In 2011, Weldon had signed a contract to once again drive for Andretti in 2012, but sadly was killed before the contract would have taken effect. So how fitting is it that in support of their Karting careers Michael will support and guide their development as drivers? With the full support of mom Susie, Sebastian (12) and Oliver (10) are headed in the right direction should they want to continue a racing career. They couldn’t have a better mentor.

That’s racing for you. It gets in your blood and the motorsports community becomes your second family. No one knows this better than Susie Wheldon. No one embraces family more than the Andretti’s. No one promotes motorsport, past, present and future more than the Andretti’s.

And that is a fact.

Time to head on down the road for the next adventure….

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