To carry a famous name in any sport -- Griese, Montana, Jordan -- the burden of comparison for the second- or third-generation athlete is overwhelming. There are certain racing gods -- Petty, Foyt, Andretti, Earnhardt, for instance -- that have seen mixed success in carrying on the family name over the years.
Third-generation driver Marco Andretti hadn't won since his 2006 IndyCar Series rookie campaign, but I was probably one of the least surprised that he had that breakthrough win this past weekend at Iowa. Marco gave me a hint that he may be close to ending that winless streak when he arrived to The Speedway Club at Texas Motor Speedway for a media luncheon the day after a harrowing Bump Day at Indy in which he made the 33-car field in the final minute.
He spoke about maturing over the last few years, And while some critics may say it was about time, you have to realize that he's still only 24 years old despite six years in the series. Just a kid with an immense amount of pressure on him due to that last name of Andretti.
And you could see that new maturity by the way he handled Bump Day with his dad in his ear. He laughed how there was no way he and dad would have survived a Bump Day like that a few years ago if he had not matured. Marco didn’t point fingers on why the car and team were in that position. He seemed genuinely bummed that teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway didn't make the field instead of being content that he was in the show and that was all that mattered.
At that May lunch, he spoke of finally realizing that there was more responsibility and commitment to being a race-car driver than getting into the car five minutes before the track went hot. He discussed about working with his crew, becoming part of that team framework as well as becoming more engaging in sponsor and media obligations and handling them more adeptly. In fact, he visited the local Dr Pepper/Snapple plant that morning and talked about what a cool time he had and enjoyed meeting a lot of nice people.
He was thoughtful in his answers to media questions that day, even joking that a few years ago his answers to most of them would have been, “Yes” and “No.” When a media person said maybe they should've asked better questions, Marco said, “Not really. I probably would have answered most them ‘yes’ and ‘no’ anyway.” Listening to him speak and watching his demeanor, you could sense his transformation.
The kid always had talent, and I hope this win is a momentum builder for his season and his career. He is one of those marquee names with that great family lineage of Grandpa Mario and Dad Michael that reverberates around the IndyCar series much like Earnhardt in NASCAR. Having Marco achieve more success and contend for championships would be a boon to sport.
Welcome back to Victory Lane, Marco. I hope to see you there more often in the future, and I think you’d look pretty good wearing a cowboy hat with six shooters in hand!