Ability Under Adverse Conditions

With the Dayton 500 running this weekend, it reminded us about a great article from Road & Track. It shows that if not for his ability to persevere, Mario Andretti could just have been a footnote in the history of motor racing.

Demaras Racing

You’re looking at Mario Andretti at home in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, in front of his trophy case, where you’ll find, among others, a Formula 1 World Championship award. But his first trophy might tell his story best. “I was driving sporadically, whenever I could find a ride, in sprint cars with the United Racing Club,” he recalls. “It was kind of B- or C-level equipment.”

This was 1961, 60 years ago. He didn’t win any races, but at the year-end banquet at the firehouse in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, the club awarded Mario (21 at the time) a trophy. It reads “Mario Andretti – For Ability Under Adverse Conditions.”

“I was driving shitboxes, the worst cars,” he says, laughing. “That’s what that means—‘ability under adverse conditions.’”

So why does the story of this first trophy illuminate the whole Andretti phenomenon? “You know,” he says, “back then, I was always going to the track with my helmet under my arm to get whatever ride I could pick up. It was one time in my career when there was a tremendous number of obstacles. If there was any season for me to be discouraged from pursuing my goals, this was the one. But I kept hammering.”

That determination was the key to his success, what led him from racing shitboxes to the podiums at Monza, Indianapolis and Dayrona.

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