Began Racing In Italy
Mario Gabriele Andretti was born on February 28, 1940 in Montona, Italy (currently Montovun, Croatia). His father, Alvise Luigi (known as "Gigi") was a farm administrator, while his mother, Rina, raised Mario, his twin brother Aldo, and his older sister Anna Maria. They were a well off family in this small town on the Istrian Peninsula until World War II broke out in Europe. Italy had joined the Axis nations of Germany and Japan and was defeated by the Allied forces. As part of the surrender agreement, the Istrian Peninsula was given to Yugoslavia. In 1948 the Andrettis and many other Italian families left their homes on the Istrian Peninsula and moved to other parts of Italy.
The Andrettis relocated to a refugee camp in Lucca, Italy. It was there that Mario and Aldo began driving their uncle's motorcycle and wooden derby car. At age 13 the boys got their first jobs parking cars for a garage. "The first time I fired up a car, felt the engine shudder and the wheel come to life in my hands, I was hooked. It was a feeling I can't describe. I still get it every time I get into a race car," explained Andretti in What's It Like Out There. The Andretti brothers idolized Italian race legend Alberto Ascari, but they had to hide their passion from their father because he disapproved of the sport. Without their parents' knowledge or permission, the boys began racing for a new youth racing league in Italy called Formula Junior.
Due to the difficult economic conditions in post-war Italy, the Andretti family immigrated to the United States in 1955 and they settled in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The 15-year-old Andretti twins did not speak English so they were placed in the seventh grade in school, much to their embarrassment. In order to catch up with their classmates, they enrolled in correspondence courses. Through these courses Mario met Dee Ann Hoch, who would eventually become his wife.