Sunday, May 25, 2003
Andretti fails to win Indy
INDIANAPOLIS -- Michael Andretti's last ride at Indy was on
a golf cart.
With his wife, Leslie, balanced in his lap and his father,
Mario, at the wheel, Michael took a spin through Gasoline Alley at
speeds considerably slower than 200 mph.
Outwardly, he was holding up well, managing a smile and a wave
for the sympathetic crowd. Inside, his emotions were churning.
How could this happen again?
The dreaded "Andretti Luck" delivered another gut-wrenching
blow Sunday, knocking Michael out of the Indianapolis 500 just
before the halfway point of his farewell race.
After leading for 28 laps, Andretti was helpless when an obscure
engine part broke.
"I feel kind of weird right now, kind of numb," said Andretti,
standing outside his garage after a 27th-place finish. "At least I
know I could have won the last race of my career. I had a shot at
The words sounded a bit hollow. He'll head into retirement
having set the Indy pace for 426 laps -- with nary a victory to show
"If it's meant to happen, it's meant to happen," Andretti
said. "For whatever reason, it didn't happen for me. I guess it
wasn't meant to be."
No one has led more laps at Indy without winning the race. In
fact, Andretti wound up just two laps behind Rick Mears, who won
the 500 a record-tying four times.
Like father, like son.
Mario Andretti won at Indy in 1969, then spent the rest of his
career in a futile quest for another victory at the Brickyard. He
usually ran up front, leading 556 laps in his career, but various
misfortunes led to a most common refrain, "Mario is slowing
For Michael, the pain runs even deeper. He never stood in
Victory Lane, never swigged from the bottle of milk, never got his
face on the Borg Warner Trophy.
"Same song, a different day," Mario said, struggling to
contain his emotions. "The thing that is so disappointing it that
was such a fluke mechanical thing in the engine, just the throttle
(line) that came apart."
Michael's final moments as a driver were spent in a parked car,
the crew swarming over the engine in a futile attempt to fix the
problem -- a carbon copy of Mario's final race at Indy in 1994.
Within minutes, Michael climbed from his broken machine. Leslie
gave him a big hug. Mario provided a shoulder to cry one.
"Why did this happen to me?" Michael asked his father.
They all jumped on the golf cart and headed to the garage, where
Andretti collected his emotions and changed out of his driver's
suit for the last time.
Then, he headed back to the pits to cheer on his team's other
three cars. A victory by any of them would have eased the pain.
Unfortunately, the Andretti luck runs deep.
Robby Gordon was knocked out by an ailing gear box with 31 laps
to go. Dan Wheldon was involved with a scary crash, flipping upside
down after losing control 14 laps from the finish. Tony Kanaan made
it the end but settled for third behind winner Gil de Ferran and
"I saw Michael leading and I knew his car was good," Kanaan
said. "When I saw him coming to the pits, I was really upset and I
thought, 'It's up to me.' I tried my best."
The winner and runner-up both drive for Roger Penske, who
captured his 13th Indy victory. Maybe things would have been
different for Mario and Michael if they had come along in a
"Roger stole another one from me," Michael said. "If Roger
wasn't around, I probably would have won three or four times."
Now, he wants to follow the path that Penske has taken to
Victory Lane so many times. Only 40, Andretti decided to retire
after this race so he could concentrate on his new role as a car
"I couldn't win one as a driver, but maybe I can win 20 as an
owner," Andretti said. "It's sure been interesting around here.
At times, I love this place. Other times, it's tough. That's what
makes it Indy."
Was there any chance he'll give it one more shot at Indy, come
back in 2004 and try again to rewrite his legacy? It doesn't appear
"I never say never, but that's a very, very, very slim
chance," he said. "I want to run this team. I don't think I could
do myself justice trying to run one race a year. These teams are so
good, and you lose that feel when you're out of the car for a
while. You're just kidding yourself if you think you can win."
On this day, he could have won. He'll have to be satisfied with
what might have been.
"My heart is all to pieces for him," Mario said. "How can you
explain it?" His voice trailed off, revealing a father's pain. "I