What Drives Champion Racing Driver Mario Andretti

Previous PostBold Wines Bolder Risks: Napa Valley's Renowned Vintner John Conover
Next PostHaute Scene : Red Cross Gala Raises Funds for Disaster Relief

Page-1-Image-7Few athletes can claim the range of achievements that Mario Andretti has. He is the only man to win the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 and Formula One World Championship. Today, he is driven by his thriving winery, partnerships with prominent companies, and his racing family. America’s most decorated racer has retired, but he hasn’t slowed down.

Born and raised in Italy, Andretti became familiar with the Napa Valley in 1976. As a champion racing driver and celebrity, he had traveled widely and, away from the tracks, enjoyed wines from prominent regions around the globe, particularly those from France and Italy. But it took some convincing from a friend for him to try wines from the Napa Valley, which in the ‘70s was still growing as a major player in the world of wines. Once he got a taste of the region’s offerings, he made frequent trips to Napa, befriending prominent wine makers and learning about the craft of winemaking.

It wasn’t until Andretti retired in 1994, after racing for nearly 50 years, that he turned his attention to winemaking as a new career. He got into the business by circumstance. As he explained, “It wasn’t a master plan. When I retired from IndyCar racing, one of the ad agencies working with me had a suggestion: ‘If you’re interested, one of the wineries would do a one-time label with your picture on it.’ So I chose a 1991 Cab. It was not the best they had, but it was okay. It was popular throughout the season by August, and I said, ‘Oh God, this is fun.” So the stage was set. “I said, ‘Hey, maybe we should just continue this and choose one of the varietals and continue the label and have some fun with it.’”


Going against the advice of his manager at the time, Andretti partnered with his longtime friend (and former CEO of Kmart) Joe Antonini to purchase a 53-acre vineyard in Napa’s Oak Knoll district. “We had a clear understanding and agreement of styles and varietals that we were going to bottle,” said Andretti.

But there were challenges, including insufficient funding from additional investors. There was, he said, also the stigma that comes with someone established in one profession breaking into foreign territory. Andretti explained, “You just have to earn the respect of the industry.” So he became focused on building the best team to produce high quality wines. “The most important thing is the core group of people.”

 “Ultimately, I drive to have the satisfaction by being successful in business and having the right people around me.”

Andretti has served as Vice Chairman of the winery from its inception. Understanding the value of his name, Andretti, who now lives in Pennsylvania, makes personal appearances whenever he gets to Napa. But, he emphasizes, he’s no figurehead. “I am very involved in all of the pertinent decisions of the winery,” he said. “ I am not a gimmick; we’re there for real. It took a while to be considered legit, but I think we’ve reached the status.”


While his winery is making strides toward greater distribution and higher visibility, Andretti does not see the need to become one of the industry’s largest wineries. “We would like to grow to 50,000 to 60,000 cases, not any bigger than that (current production is between 35,000 and 40,000 cases). I think if we stay within that range, we can enjoy it more. I have no ambition to be one of the big ones; I just want to be one of the good ones.”


That focused mentality seems to be his formula to success today. “Leave the nuts and bolts to the real experts. Never profess to be what you’re not. Surround yourself with the best people you can find. They’re the ones who can give you the tools to perform. The best driver in the world can’t show his or her talents unless he or she is in the best car.”

“Ultimately, I drive to have the satisfaction by being successful in business and having the right people around me.”

Andretti also stays busy working with several race sponsors, including Firestone, Honda, IZOD and GoDaddy. He is also part owner of Peninsula Petroleum, a fuel supplier based in Redwood City, Calif.

Though Andretti admitted that nothing could seriously rival the successes he achieved in racing, he is happy that the sport continues to run in his bloodline. His sons, Michael and Jeff, are race car drivers, and grandson Marco continues the legacy into the third generation. “My grandson is still in it, so I’ll never be totally out of it.”

Beyond his family’s events, Andretti follows racing intensely, studying every series and watching every race – Formula One, IndyCar, motorcycles, NASCAR . Of course, he keeps a close eye on his son’s team (Michael Andretti Autosport) and roots for his grandson, Marco, who is currently on the IndyCar circuit, racing for Michael.


The senior Andretti still goes on fast rides, sometimes with fellow marquee names. On a finale of Celebrity Apprentice, which featured Michael Andretti as a contestant, Mario took Donald Trump on a drive. He was careful with The Donald, he said. “I tried not to mess up his hair so much!”

Andretti enjoys the new life chapter he has created, especially with Andretti Wines. As he said, “Wines are part of the good things in life.”

connect with haute living National