Became A Professional Racecar Driver In America
Racing in America was quite different than that in Europe. In particular, Americans favored stock cars, while Europeans raced sports cars. In addition, Americans raced on oval tracks, while Europeans raced on winding roads. The Andretti boys learned everything they could about American racing and saved money to build a car. They eventually managed to rebuild a 1948 Hudson Hornet, which they debuted on the Nazareth Speedway in 1959. The brothers took turns racing their Hornet and borrowed other cars to race. They quickly established themselves as winners at the speedway. However, during the final race of 1959 Aldo crashed the Hornet and was seriously injured. He was in a coma for two weeks. Gigi Andretti discovered his sons' racing escapades because of this accident and he was extremely upset with the twins.
Neither Aldo's accident nor Gigi's disapproval stopped Mario from racing. During the next two years he won 21 of 46 stock car races. He also began racing in the United Racing Club sprint car circuit and the indoor midget car winter circuit to gain driving experience. In 1963 Andretti entered his first United States Auto Club (USAC) race, a sprint car race, in Allentown, Pennsylvania. This race allowed him to compete against some of the champions of racing, including A.J. Foyt. Although Andretti was a fairly successful driver, he was not yet able to support his young family on racing alone so he also worked as a foreman for Motorvator, a company that manufactured golf carts.
In April of 1964 Andretti entered his first USAC Championship race and in October of the same year he won his first USAC victory in Salem, Indiana. In 1965 Andretti became the lead driver for the Dean Van Lines team, which was owned by Al Dean. In this position, Andretti earned $5,000 a year plus 40 percent of his winnings. Andretti was now a full-time professional driver. With the support of Al Dean and chief mechanic Clint Brawner, Andretti was now in a position to win big races. In particular, 1965 was the first year that Andretti entered the Indianapolis 500. "The start of the 500 Mile Race is something else," Andretti explained in his autobiography What's It Like Out There? "The pace car pulls off the track, the green flag is dropped, and 33 drivers push their accelerators to the floor. It looks as if all 33 are trying to hit the first turn at once. Dust comes from all over. The sound alone is enough to drive the timid to the edge of panic." Andretti, however, was not timid and he finished the race in third place and won the Indianapolis Rookie of the Year Award. Although Andretti only won one USAC race that year, he finished well in several other races and earned enough points in the season to win the USAC National Championship, which was unusual for a rookie.