Happy Birthday Mario Andretti!
The management and staff of Lime Rock Park joins racing fans around the globe in wishing Mario Andretti a happy 83rd birthday.
Andretti drove in only one event at Lime Rock Park, but it proved to be a pivotal day for the then 23-year-old driver from Nazareth, Pa.
At that point, Andretti was making his name in oval track competition in the Northeast. The American Racing Driver Club scheduled a 20-lap feature race at LRP on July 27, 1963. Andretti was at the wheel of the yellow No. 33 Kurtis-Offy owned by brothers Bill and Ed Mataka, a car he took over in the latter stages of the 1962 season.
Andretti wasn’t the only future superstar in the field, though. Mark Donohue – following the traditional road racing career path through SCCA sports cars – was driving a unique former John Cooper-built Formula Junior. That was a rear-engine car powered by a two-speed gearbox, giving him a distinct advantage over the tradition Midgets with in-and-out gearing. Donohue also brought Lime Rock experience to the table – he captured the attention of future car owner Roger Penske in a sports car race at LRP in 1960!
The Midget race saw the two future Indy 500 winners go toe to toe. Andretti recalled pressuring Donohue throughout the race. Donohue dropped a tire wheel with two laps to go, resulting in a slow leak.
“It slowed him down just enough that coming off the last corner I got underneath him , and won the race,” Andretti recalled in Gordon Kirby’s Mario Andretti: A Driving Passion. “I felt like Fangio! … God, did I feel good that day!”
The race was one of nine career Midget victories for Andretti, who won three features later that year on Labor Day. Then it was on to Sprint cars and Indy cars with a victory in the 1967 Daytona 500 and a victory in the 1969 Indianapolis 500. His versatility moved to the road courses where he won the 12 Hours of Sebring three times, landed factory drives for Ferrari and the 1978 Formula One World Championship. Then back to America for his fourth Indy car title.
Andretti ran only one more race at Lime Rock Park. Later in the day after his ARDC victory, he started a 47-lap combined race for ARDC midget and Formula Libre cars. Donohue won without serious competition. Accounts differ on Andretti’s result – some have him finishing a distant second, other see him dropping out on the second lap.
That result didn’t matter for Andretti, though. He won his ARDC points race following a terrific duel with Donohue – and fans at Lime Rock saw an early milestone in the launching of the career of an American icon.
Lime Rock Park’s 66th season kicks off Memorial Day weekend (May 26-29) with the Trans Am Memorial Day Classic, featuring races from Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA), International GT (IGT) and the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli. For tickets visit LimeRock.com