Your chief operating officer, John Lopes, told me recently that he was standing with you on race morning next to the track last year, looking out at the scene, and you turned and said, 'This would be a great event to be part of one day.' What were you thinking? What did you see?
The magnitude of it. You know, It was just really mind-blowing in a lot of ways. There were tons of people here. It was huge. It was like 'Wow! This is the first year. This could be a crown jewel.' I thought it could become a crown jewel. [Then, laughing] I never thought in a million years I really would be involved with it. But here we are.
I know your father and mother [Hall of Fame and racing icon Mario Andretti and his wife, Dee Ann] used to come to Baltimore to eat crabs to celebrate his racing wins during his career. Do you have a favorite anything — place, food, restaurant — here?
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I actually don't know Baltimore real well. But now I'm learning it. Actually, we're going down to Little Italy to eat and check out some of the restaurants down there. I can't say I have a favorite yet. Last year I was only here literally just for the race and some sponsor dinners I had to go to, and I stayed in my motor home. To this point, it's all I have to go on. That's how it is at most races, people stay in the compound.
Do you think that will change here, that people will get out of the compound and enjoy the surrounding area?
Yeah, that's one of the complaints, if that's the word. One of the challenges from last year. We're listening and trying to figure out what we can do to open things up. I think what they're talking about doing is between every practice and race opening up the gates underneath the bridges. You can move a lot of people that way, so they don't have to line up and have big backups over the bridges. I think that is being talked about. I think another thing people were saying is that they had problems once they were inside, because they really didn't know where to go. So we're working on better signage to make sure people know where to go for all the action.
There were also places, like Little Italy, beyond the Inner Harbor, that felt left out of what was going on here.
We're trying. That's one thing, our general manager Tim Mayer has been going to each and every door and knocking, asking what their complaints were and what we can do to make the experience better for everybody. We're really trying to do the best we can to make this the least headache we can for everybody.
One question I was going to ask is what improvements fans can notice at this year's race, but you've covered at least some of that.
"Yes, some of it. I think also we're also working on the traffic patterns. I think they learned a lot of things from last year that will make things better this year. But honestly, I think they did all right for last year being the first time, I think no one realized it was going to be that big. We're just going to try to learn from that and be ready for it this year."
As we're getting close to race day here, what is your biggest worry?
Well, I'm a promoter, so weather. As a promoter it could kill you. We're hoping for a weekend like they had last year. But even if it rains there will be a lot to do. It rained in Milwaukee right before the race. Usually when that happens, everyone leaves. But in Milwaukee, everyone stayed because there were so many fun things to do, and they had a good time. And here, on a street course, the cars — in all the series — will race, unless it's a deluge. We have rain tires.
You father always said he never wanted to be anything other than a race car driver. But you, after your successful racing career, have moved on to being a car owner and now, a race promoter. Where does your interest in business management come from?
I don't know, but whenever I was driving I was always interested in what was going on outside of [the race car]. In fact, I had a lot of input in what went in to the teams I drove for, in terms of people and things like that. So I was really in to that side of it. Dad never really was. He just cared about driving, but the business part of it peaked my interest. For me, I've been really lucky. I've had a great career and then, whereas other athletes — whether drivers or ball players — have had great careers and then afterward they didn't know what to do with themselves, I'm really lucky to have this, to have a reason to wake up in the morning. It's not easy. It's a great challenge and a great motivator and I have fun doing it.
Besides this race, you also took on the task of reviving this season's race in Milwaukee and did quite well. Why do you think you had success there?
I think one, we really tried to get the city more involved, to get the local businesses more involved than they had been and we tried to deliver more of a bang for the people's dollar. Not just having a race, but bringing a festival atmosphere there, which we really wanted to do there because Milwaukee is the city of festivals. And I think we did a great job. The people of all ages had a blast. The whole infield was a festival, everything from the snake pit for the partiers to the family fun zone for the kids. I think our team did a great job.
Are there any similarities between here and there?
Actually, what we tried to do was take some of what we've done in the past at street races and take that flavor to an oval. And I think it went over really well. It's what street races are all about. They are like festivals. They're all about partying and having fun, not just coming out for the race. There is something happening all the time and that is what makes it fun.
Mayer told me tweaks are being made to the track.
Yeah, we're making a few spots wider, getting rid of the chicane on the main straight-away that will probably make the speeds at least 10 mph faster and open up better passing zones into Turn 1. And, we're making Turn 1 a bit wider, as well. So hopefully, it will make it a little better passing area.