INDIANAPOLIS – Nearly a half-century later, Mario Andretti still gets tingly when he thinks about winning the 1969 Indianapolis 500.
“Crossing that finish line was just the greatest moment of my life,” the racing legend said Wednesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway media center. “It was just amazing, just like the 900-pound gorilla was lifted off my shoulders.”
Andretti was at the site of that most famous win, joined by IMS President Doug Boles, who announced that the golden anniversary of Andretti’s triumph in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” will be celebrated in a variety of ways this May.
A commemorative logo including the depiction of Andretti giving his famous wave next to the Borg-Warner Trophy was unveiled during the news conference. A specially curated exhibit honoring Andretti’s legendary career will open at the IMS Museum on May 1. The popular silver and bronze badges that allow access to the Gasoline Alley garage area will be adorned with Andretti’s face. Special 50th-anniversary Andretti merchandise will be available at IMS gift shops.
“Mario Andretti’s victory in the 1969 Indianapolis 500 was one of the iconic moments in the history of the world’s greatest auto race,” Boles said. “Mario’s position as one of the most popular drivers in the race’s history only has grown over time, and his accomplishments in every discipline of racing in which he has competed remain landmarks of our sport. We’re honored to join with Mario’s legions of fans around the world to celebrate his magical month of May in 1969 and his remarkable career.”
For Andretti, the man who claimed four Indy car season championships, one Formula One title, a Daytona 500 victory as well as sports car victories in the 24-hour race at Daytona and 12-hour race at Sebring, Wednesday’s honor once again resonated just where his 1969 Indy 500 triumph stands.
“When you win it, it does change your life in so many ways, and all for the better, quite honestly,” Andretti said. “Career-wise, it opens doors that you could have only hoped for before, and your personal life changes dramatically.”
After sustaining facial burns in a practice crash in the new Lotus-Ford, Andretti qualified second in his backup No. 2 STP Oil Treatment Brawner Hawk-Ford for the ’69 race. He led 116 of the 200 laps and finished ahead of fellow legends Dan Gurney and Bobby Unser for what would be his only Indy 500 win.
Andretti’s only regret on Wednesday was that his flamboyant car owner at the time, Andy Granatelli, couldn’t be there to share in the celebration. The photo of Granatelli planting a kiss on Andretti’s cheek in victory lane that year remains one of the most famous shots in race history.
“I was able to win it for, not just for myself but for Andy Granatelli,” Andretti said. “And I'll tell you, in my opinion nobody deserved that victory more than he did because of what he meant to the speedway.”
Month of May activities at IMS include the INDYCAR Grand Prix on Saturday, May 11 and the 103rd Indianapolis 500 in Sunday, May 26. Ticket information is available at IMS.com.