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Andretti Ready for His Last Drive

May 25, 2003|Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Michael Andretti sat quietly in his Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage, looking out the door at the commotion he has caused.

He has been inundated by the media and besieged by fans every time he leaves his relative sanctuary amid the tool boxes, car parts and engines.

It would be ideal for Andretti if everybody would just leave him alone and let him get ready for today's Indianapolis 500.

But he has known what to expect since March, when he announced that Indy would be the final race as a driver.

"That's the worst part of the whole deal," Andretti said. "The whole month, and particularly the last few days, I've been pulled every which direction.

"But, you know, I'm able to handle it OK because I know want I want to do and I'm doing it. Actually, it's been the most fun I've had in May."

Michael will step out of the cockpit to focus on the new passion in his life: Andretti Green Racing, the team he and two partners bought late last year from Barry Green. Rookie Dan Wheldon will take his seat, joining veterans Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan as the team's drivers.

Most racers hate the thought of retirement. The son of Mario Andretti welcomes it.

At 40, he owns more wins (42) than any active American open-wheel racer and remains a competitive driver. Only his father and A.J. Foyt had more.

He has no second thoughts about giving up driving.

"None. I'm doing it the way I always wanted to do it," Andretti said.

"I always wanted to retire where I was still very competitive. I didn't want to fade away. I didn't want to have to be pulled out of the car. That's not my way."

And Andretti is quick to point out that he looks at this as a very positive change.

"Because of what I've been able to structure for myself beyond my driving years, to have something that I can still put a lot of focus in and still get a lot of adrenaline and still stay involved with the sport I love, it's just a fantastic thing," he said. "I really feel like I'm the luckiest guy in the world."

Mario Andretti doesn't share his son's love of the racing business. He does, however, understands why Michael is ending his driving career 14 years earlier than he did.

Owning a team "was one of his absolute goals," the father said while watching his son go through another of the endless interviews in the week leading up to the race.

"He's the type of guy who is very decisive," Mario said. "He's feeling very good about it, 100 percent sure and content.

Mario, who readily admits he has missed driving a race car every day since his grudging retirement in 1994 at age 54, said he had seen his son's passion for racing wane recently.

"I really don't think he enjoyed his driving the last couple of years," Mario said. "And the business aspects of the sport have always been his biggest interest.

"I have always hated that stuff. We would go into a business meeting and all I wanted to do was get it over with. Michael would sit there and ask questions and just love being there."

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