By Sandra McKee, The Baltimore Sun
3:48 PM EDT, August 27, 2011
You have to give Marco Andretti credit.
He's an Indy Car driver, which would be something for any 24-year-old to be proud of. But for Andretti, having the guts to choose that profession is something many twenty-somethings wouldn't want to take on.
His father is Michael Andretti, the third-winningest driver in Indy Car history.
His grandfather is Mario Andretti, the most versatile American driver in motorsports history.
Marco said he might be feeling that pressure — if he had ever known anything else.
"I don't know what it's like being anybody else," he said. "I'm very fortunate, really. As I see it, I've got two of the best as my support system. I guess it's a double-edged sword."
In terms of reference material, it's tough to beat having Mario (the only driver ever to win the Daytona 500, Indy 500 and Formula One World Driving championship) and Michael (the third-winningest driver in Indy car and the winner of three IndyCar championships and two Indianapolis 500s as a car owner) at his disposal.
Certainly, it has meant both opportunity and expectations.
Marco will tell you straightforwardly that, when he was coming up through the open wheel ranks, "there were so many talented drivers. Kids who beat me, but didn't get sponsors."
Marco Andretti got sponsors, and when he was ready to race he was lucky — his dad owned IndyCar teams. He got a ride, and during his first season in 2006, he increased the expectations. He finished second in the Indianapolis 500, the sport's most legendary race, and he won at Infineon Raceway near San Francisco.
Though he didn't get his second career win until this June at Iowa Speedway, he's been among the IZOD IndyCar Series top 10 drivers in four of his five seasons. Heading into Sunday's race at Infineon, he sits in 7th in the points race and has his eyes on the top 5.
"It's definitely possible," he said.
And it would be especially meaningful for him to add to his win total at Sunday's Baltimore Grand Prix.
"It's very much my home race," said Marco Andretti, who lives in Nazareth, Pa.. "Instead of having to fly somewhere, I'm going to get in my car and drive over. I'm going to have a lot of family and friends there. … I grew up on road and street courses. I like them."
As much as he looks forward to Baltimore, Andretti admits he still looks back to his first race at Indy.
When Andretti finished second — getting passed on the final lap, a couple hundred yards from the finish — the conversation was as much a discussion of the continued Andretti curse at Indy (grandfather, father and son have a combined one win in 65 tries) as it was about the exhilarating and promising performance of Marco the rookie.
"I still think about that race everyday," he said. "But I don't look at what happened as an omen. My grandfather says, 'Count your blessings.'I've been upside down at that place and was lucky. I'm still young, and I'm still mad about that race. I can see winning it one day. I've been close on more than three occasions."
The youngest Andretti doesn't shy away from who he is. He has even bought the home in which he grew up in Nazareth from his father, who has relocated to Indianapolis.
"I didn't want to leave, and Dad couldn't sell it for a long time," Marco said. "So I bought it from him. It worked out well for both of us."
Fathers and grandfathers are much the same everywhere. They want their kids to be happy and have success. The Andrettis are no different. Marco said his grandfather "is more blunt" in his critiques. Mario nods and admits, "I am of course critical," but he quickly adds, "I just want so much for him to win."
Michael is more gentle.
"When I started racing, I worked hard to win because being the son of Mario Andretti, I was afraid to lose," he said.
Marco appreciates the wisdom his father acquired.
"My dad's been there," he said. "He's had the father in the sport, and he's aware of what that's like. Away from the track, he might ask me, 'Why didn't you do that?' I think that's how we work it out. Father and son away from the track, but all business at the race track."
Still, Marco Andretti admitted after winning at Iowa in June that the dominating emotion he felt was relief.
"Sure I've heard questions about my winning drought," he said. "All I can say is that I've done nothing different. But over the years, I've only gained experience. I've always known how to drive. I think I drive like my dad and grandfather. I'm aggressive, but I like to be sensible, too. I think they were both like that. And when the opportunity presents itself, I want to know I can go. I think they did, too. We all like to attack in the corners.
"But experience brings the ability to know what you need in the car to go faster. That's half the battle. As I'm getting older I'm better able to put my finger on that. At this stage, I've felt certain things before, and I can say, 'Ah, I know what this means.' Knowing those things, being able to help make the car better makes my job of driving easier."
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