Mario Andretti had a racing career that spanned five decades and his life has been just as epic.
The living legend turned 80 on Feb. 28, 2020, and he shows no signs of slowing down. He remains a fixture at racing events around the world and still takes passengers on 200 mph thrill rides in a two-seat Indycar.
Andretti was born to Italian parents in what is now Motovun, Croatia. After spending time in a refugee camp following World War II, his family moved to Pennsylvania, where he became a U.S. citizen in 1964 and still lives today. He and his twin brother Aldo began racing cars soon after, and by 1965 Mario was competing in the Indy 500.
He won the Daytona 500 stock car race in 1967, the Indy 500 in 1969, and over 100 top flight races across several disciplines. His 1978 Formula One championship was the last by an American driver. On the 50th anniversary of his Indy 500 win, he told Fox News Autos none of it would’ve happened if he hadn’t moved to America.
“There’s no way. No way in the world that the opportunities would have been there,” Andretti said. “Not one chance. And that’s why I count my blessings every day for everything that happened to me in my life. You know, every negative became a positive and every potential negative became a positive. I truly, truly, truly, truly can claim the American dream. Absolutely.”
Andretti’s wife of 56 years, Dee Ann, died of complications from heart surgery in 2018 at age 75 and is survived by their children Michael, Jeff and Barbie. Michael’s son Marco was one of many to wish Mario a very happy 80th birthday on social media:
Andretti was invited to a reception for Italian President Sergio Mattarella last October, where he spoke again of his love for his adopted country.
“I’m very, very – as you can imagine – proud of my heritage. But I also found we, as a family — we found our home here in America. And I’m the true, true, I think, example of what the American Dream is about. And I always said, because of that, with pride and gratitude, I salute the Stars and Stripes.”