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Four laps with Mario Andretti

By BRANT JAMES
Published March 29, 2005


Mario Andretti, 65, has raced and won in everything, along the way becoming the standard against whom drivers are judged. He won a Formula One title, four USAC/CART titles, the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. The last of his 52 CART wins came at age 53 at Phoenix in 1993.

Andretti's opinions still cover a broad range of topics:

What will the battle between engine manufacturers Toyota and Honda do to racing?

It could be utopia. It could be problems. ... I think it all boils down to stability, continuity. The manufacturers can be very, very good for this sport in every possible way, as long as they commit long-term, but if they come and go, then what you see is the high and the low. You know what I see as the perfect example? Le Mans. When you had the manufacturers involved, you had hospitality and so much capital being spent. It makes it fly, but when one of them leaves officially, that spot, that infield is empty and creates such a big void. That's a problem. You can talk about it until the cows come home, but that's the dangers of the manufacturers. Then you have other manufacturers - Ford, Chevy, Dodge. Dodge, they go in and out, but Ford and Chevy, they have been here from Day 1, and without them (NASCAR) probably isn't where it is today.

Will Toyota and Honda eventually be in Nextel Cup?

I think it's probably inevitable unless (NASCAR) just says "no." They have as many manufacturing facilities as anyone in this country. They sell as many cars (in America) as automakers in this country. I don't know if it would be wise to keep them out.

How has NASCAR done things right as open-wheel racing has struggled?

NASCAR has maintained stability. Open wheel, with CART you had a group of owners that were totally taken in by greed and egos. The product was excellent, had diversified itself from any other discipline, but the political side is what killed it in so many ways. I think the most damaging part is when they went public with the organization, because then they started focusing on things that were not pertinent to the sport itself. There were business decisions made instead of sporting decisions and they cannot sustain that. And then because of that (Indy Racing League founder) Tony George on the other side decides "I am going to build a better mouse trap." You've got the split and the rest is history.

But hasn't NASCAR made several major decisions based on business?

But they are decisions that help the show, not just decisions that help the (fiscal) quarter. When you have a public company, the unfortunate thing about the public companies is you live quarter to quarter and sometimes you have to do stupid things to make the quarter look good, and some of the stupid things hurt the product, the ingredients for a long period of time. (In) NASCAR, the France family has kept the whole thing together and surrounded themselves with a good group of people and just taken it to the next level. They have taken advantage of everything. A lot of the fans that I run into, ran into on the plane, they say "I remember you from Milwaukee" or here or there, these are all fans that migrated to NASCAR because they were disgruntled.