Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bruce Newman's 1994 Tribute to Retiring Racing Legend Mario Andretti

Sports Illustrated used to feature a lengthy roster of top notch writers, including Ralph Wiley, Frank Deford, Gary Smith and Rick Reilly. Bruce Newman is not as well known as the members of that literary quartet but he is a very good writer as well. In Sports Illustrated's October 17, 1994 issue, Newman penned a tribute to racing legend Mario Andretti. Newman described Andretti's enduring legacy:

There are other drivers--artists like Jimmy Clark and Ayrton Senna--whose best days will linger longer in our memory than Andretti's, but no one was ever as successful as Andretti in so many different kinds of racing. From 1966 through '69 he won 29 Indy Car races (his eventual total would be 52), while also winning both the Daytona 500 stock car race and the 12 Hours of Sebring in '67. The following year he drove in Formula One for the first time and immediately took the pole at Watkins Glen (though he didn't finish the race). He was competing in only his second full season of F/1 racing, in '78, when he won the World Championship driving for Lotus.

In 1994, Andretti's final season on the Indy Car circuit, he finished outside of the top ten in the standings (14th) for the first time since 1981, when he only ran a partial schedule due to his Formula One commitments. He was competitive at times but he was no longer an elite driver, a fact that he well understood: "The cycle of life is what's happening. The old guys go home, new guys come out. There's no question that I've driven past my prime, but, realistically, I'm still capable of bringing home results." Newman noted, "If Andretti had stayed too long at the races, nobody seemed in any particular hurry for him to leave, least of all him." It is always poignant to see a great career wind down but Andretti handled the denouement with his customary class--and Newman described the ending with great insight and sensitivity, reminding younger readers just how great Andretti had been when he ruled virtually every track that he visited.

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