DP gets squished with Michael Andretti
A condensed version of Dan Patrick's interview with IRL driver Michael Andretti appears in the May 26 edition of ESPN The Magazine
|Michael Andretti is the active leader in the CART series in wins and poles.|
DP: What's the last movie you saw?
MA: Last movie? I just saw "Old School."
DP: Could you relate to anything in "Old School"?
MA: No, what are you talking about?
You don't have any of those moments?
MA: You mean, streaking through the streets and stuff?
DP: You never streaked?
MA: No, I never streaked.
DP: What a sheltered life you've lived.
MA: I really have. I was very boring growing up.
DP: Why is that?
MA: Well, I was just raised with the focus on doing so I didn't party or anything like that.
DP: When you start to get older, what's the first thing that goes as far as driving skills?
MA: I think you find you're more careful and when you're more careful you don't drive as fast. You start caring more about not making mistakes and that holds you back. Growing older makes you a lot more conservative.
DP: When was the last time you drove angry?
MA: I don't really drive angry. I try not to put emotion into my driving.
DP: But you've been upset during a race?
MA: Oh yeah. I've been upset but I don't think it made me drive any different. Well, let me say there was one time with Nigel Mansell , he tried to put me in the wall on purpose in Toronto. I got very upset with that. I thought that that was really bad driving.
DP: But do you guys understand that you are fallible, that - you know, here he is trying to bang you into the wall. Who knows what could happen if he banged you into the wall?
MA: He did it in a slow corner.
DP: Oh, so it was just a friendly nudge?
MA: Well, he didn't hit me, he just tried to put me into the wall, steered me into the wall which wasn't cool. Because I was trying to pass him on the outside and he just went straight into the corner to try to make me hit the wall, the tire wall. It was pretty dirty.
DP: Is that something that you keep with you in the back of your mind?
MA: Oh yes.
DP: Now, did you ever get back at him?
MA: Actually, in that same race. He ended up getting a flat tire.
DP: But that had nothing to do with you?
DP: Oh, it did?
MA: Yeah, I gave it to him.
DP: How did you give him a flat tire?
MA: I just ran into the back of him. That's the only time I've done that in my career.
DP: And did he know that you did it on purpose?
MA: I don't know.
DP: You don't care?
MA: I hope he did.
DP: Are rivalries good in your sport?
MA: Yeah, I think so. I think a little controversy never hurt and I think that stuff creates interest. As long as you're careful and you don't do anything stupid on the track, it's ok. With what we do on the oval track in the IRL you've got to be very careful. You can't carry things on to the track because things happen way to fast.
DP: Have you ever driven too fast?
MA: Too fast?
MA: No, never fast enough. I always want to go faster.
DP: But you never get to the point where you look and say that's just too fast for this part of the track?
MA: Actually there was when we were in Texas. That's when we found the human element's threshold for speed.
DP: Was that scary?
MA: What was scary to me was sitting in the driver's meeting and everybody raising their hand saying they had the symptoms of vertigo. I was very scared in that situation.
DP: The race car is your office so I would assume that you're comfortable in your office. But when are you not comfortable?
MA: When am I not comfortable?
DP: Yeah. Have you ever gotten to a point where you just have to get out of the car?
MA: No. No, I've never been to that point. I hope never to get to that point. When you get there it's definitely time to hang it up and go.
DP: But if you're frustrated or it's heat-related?
MA: Oh yeah, there's been times where physically you've got to get out of the car because you're so hot. There've been a couple of races where I thought I was going to die it was so hot.
DP: Did it make you want to cry?
MA: No, not cry. But it made you want to pass out. Meanwhile, you actually throw up. You get to the point where you're almost ready to throw up.
DP: Have you thrown up in your car before?
MA: Nope, never have. I made somebody throw up in their car.
DP: Who did you make throw up?
MA: Ray Hall.
DP: How did you make Ray Hall throw up?
MA: Well, it was going down to the end for a championship in 1986 and I dropped out of the race. And just from the the pressure and the situation it got to him, I guess.
DP: When you dropped out, he threw up?
MA: Yeah, because he realized he won the championship and I guess it was the whole letdown of the thing.
DP: Wow. That's pretty deep.
MA: Yeah, it was.
DP: Why are you talking about retirement?
MA: Well I feel my future in racing is going to be ownership and I feel that I can't - and I'm finding it too -- that it's very difficult to keep my level of driving up with other distractions in my mind. I don't want to be out there halfway.
DP: While you're driving, have you ever let your mind drift?
MA: Yeah, I did in my very first race. I was in Las Vegas and had a good start in the race and I remember looking up front and seeing my dad right in front of me. That's when I realized that I was in the big time. But right when I thought that, I spun. A good lesson was learned right there.
DP: Did you know that you're in the Indy 500 history books?
MA: Yeah, but that's not the way I want to be remembered. That's one record I don't want to retire with so I'm gong to do everything I can not too. I have one more shot at it.
DP: But that's a reason to come back once a year.
MA: I don't think -- at the level we compete at - that you can just come back once a year and be competitive. I'd be fooling myself if I believed that.
DP: You're ten wins away from catching your dad. Is there a part of you that wouldn't want to catch or surpass your dad?
MA: That was the goal a few years ago but unfortunately the reality was that it wasn't going to happen. It was something that I definitely looked at and would have loved to have done.
DP: Oh, so you'd like to surpass the old man?
MA: Oh yeah, I would have loved to. That would have been great because his record is incredible and if I could have been ahead of him in one of them, it would have been great.
DP: What do you drive the best? You're a motorcycle guy and probably ATVs, snowmobiles?
DP: What would you say is your best vehicle?
MA: Besides a car, you mean?
DP: Well, I don't know, is that your best vehicle?
MA: Yes, the car is my best.
DP: Okay. Aside from that then?
MA: Aside from that, I don't know. I'm not real good on any of them because I don't do them enough. But I used to be really good on motorcycles when I was young. But then again, I'm not like I used to be.
DP: What was your first car?
MA: My first car was a Lotus that my Dad won when he won the world championship. It sounds really awesome but for a kid it was sort of embarrassing because the car wasn't the most reliable car in the world. I'd pull up to a parking lot and shut the lights off and one light would stay on. It was real embarrassing as a kid because everybody thought it was such a cool car and it wasn't.
DP: You know, I've never been a fan of the Lotus because it's like a little match box. I mean, you could pick it up with two guys.
MA: Yeah. I liked it though. It was a neat looking car but it just wasn't reliable. When you'd put it in reverse my friends and I would have to push it backwards to get it out of reverse.
DP: Are you a gear head?
MA: No. I'm not a gear head.
DP: Could you drop an engine?
MA: What do you mean?
DP: Could you take it out of the car?
MA: If I had to but they try to keep me away from the car.
DP: What's your dad's most impressive achievement?
MA: I'd say his versatility. The way he could win in any type of race car. There is nobody as versatile as him.
DP: What made him great, though?
MA: His passion. All he wanted to do was drive a race car. And he's still that way he still has that passion and I don't believe that anybody will ever have that.
DP: Is he the best driver in the family?
MA: I think he's the most versatile.
DP: But is he the best driver?
MA: I don't know. That's a hard one because we were in different eras and I didn't hit him in his total prime. So I don't know. We were different in some ways but the same in others. With Dad, it didn't matter if he was practicing or racing, he drove as hard and as fast as he could and I always tried to do the same thing.
DP: What movie do you think best exemplified the lifestyle that you guys lead as race care drivers?
MA: Oh, it had to be "Driven".
DP: You can relate to Stallone?
MA: Yes. Oh God, I don't know. It was a good movie. Unfortunately, Hollywood just really doesn't capture what we do very well.
DP: Yeah, but what are they missing?
MA: The reality. They put too much Hollywood in it and I guess they have to try to make it exciting. I guess it's not as exciting and glamorous as everybody thinks. I think people think you get to travel the world, blah, blah, blah. It's nice but we end up seeing a lot of hotels, a lot of racetracks and a lot of airports.
DP: That doesn't sound too glamorous.
MA: No, it's not as glamorous as everybody thinks.
DP: Yeah, but do women like a guy in a uniform?
MA: Oh, I guess they do.
DP: I would think that that would be a part of the perks, that you'd be a dashing guy in a suit, a uniform and traveling 200 miles an hour.
MA: I guess, I guess there are some guys that would like to profile that way. There's a lot of these weekend warriors that like to walk around in their suits.
DP: Do you have guys that stay in their uniforms a little bit longer than they should?
MA: I'd say not the professionals. I think there are some weekend warriors who probably go to dinner in their racing suits.
DP: Who would win a foot race among the drivers in your family?
MA: I would.
DP: Who's your favorite person to compete against in driving?
MA: I think Dad. I really enjoyed that.
DP: Was it difficult for your family when you'd compete against him?
MA: I don't know, I guess.
DP: I mean, was it hard for them to root?
DP: I guess. But my mom always still rooted for my dad. Which is normal.
DP: What's the most far fetched sponsorship you've been offered?
MA: There was a time when we went down to the race and Dianetics was on the car and we said we weren't driving the car.
DP: And what did they do?
MA: Took it off.
DP: How easy is it to take that off?
MA: It was a big problem. I mean, we were ready to walk if they didn't take it off.
DP: You're not a big fan of L. Ron Hubbard?
DP: Do you even know what Dianetics is?
MA: It's some sort of cult thing and I don't really know the whole story and I don't really want to know.
DP: What's the appeal of open wheel driving as opposed to NASCAR?
MA: To me, Open wheel driving is the fighter plane of the sport whereas NASCAR is more the bomber type thing. I think open wheel racing is the tip of technology. The cars are just made to go really fast whereas NASCAR is a more controlled environment. I'm not taking anything away from NASCAR it's not really a pure racing car.
DP: I think you just called them sissies, didn't you?
MA: No, I didn't. It takes just as much skill to drive our cars as it does a NASCAR because to drive a car fast you've got to get it to the limit. It doesn't matter if you're driving a dump truck eventually you've got to get it to the limit and it takes a good driver to do that.
DP: How different is it to drive a car with nothing over your head?
MA: Oh, I don't know. I don't really think about it. It's actually a weirder feeling when you have something over your head.
MA: I don't know, you just feel more confined, more trapped.
DP: So you think it's an advantage to not have anything over your head?
MA: I don't think it's an advantage. It's just a different feeling. I prefer the feeling of having it more open but I've driven closed cars before. You get used to it.
DP: So what's your favorite toy as far as cars go?
MA: I don't really have Ferraris and all that stuff any more. I went through a phase like that but I don't really have that any more. I like more cruising type cars.
DP: You have a Hummer?
MA: Yeah. It's funny, my wife really wanted a Hummer and I wasn't really excited about it. Now that we have it I really enjoy it.
DP: But do you worry about gas mileage with your Hummer.
MA: If I did, we wouldn't be driving it.
DP: What do you get per mile in a Hummer?
MA: I think it gets only ten miles per gallon.
DP: Do you get better gas mileage with your race car?
MA: Unfortunately no.
DP: Your favorite music?
MA: I like hip hop.
DP: So if you're driving in a race and you could listen to something, what would you listen to?
MA: If I was driving in a race, I'd listen to Metallica's "Fuel".
MA: Oh yeah, that's a good driving song.
DP: So what you'd listen to while you're driving is completely different from what you'd listen to if you're just driving your family car?
MA: Yeah, probably. I like different types of music but lately I've been listening a lot to hip hop. My wife is really into it big time. But if I was in a trying to drive fast. It'd be Metallica's "Fuel," you can't beat that song.
DP: How are the Phillies going to be this year?
MA: I don't know. I don't really follow baseball.
MA: I follow hockey and football.
DP: Were you on the Eric Lindros' side or the Bobby Clark side?
DP: Do you think Bobby Clark screwed up the Flyers?
MA: Man, you are getting me in trouble here.
DP: Well, you've already picked Lindros.
MA: No, I just felt like the whole deal was becoming a personality deal and it was hurting the team. It was coming down to personal feelings. And at that level, you've got to think what's best for the team.
DP: Any parallel in hockey players to what you do for a living?
MA: I don't know. I guess the speed aspect and the quick reactions is what I enjoy and the hard work. Those guys pound it hard and that's something we have to do also. We don't have that physical side of actually pounding each other but we have the speed of the game.
DP: If you're going around a turn, explain to us the G forces. What exactly does that do to your body?
MA: It basically squishes your body. Your whole body squishes up against the side of the car. On road courses there are some places where you're pulling lateral G and when you break your head snaps forward so you have to push very hard on the brakes. And when you accelerate your neck snaps back pretty hard. Driving a racecar is a lot like getting beat up for two hours. I've always described it sort of like riding a wild bronco for like two hours.
DP: What hurts on your body on a Monday after a Sunday race?
MA: Everything, your legs, your arms and your neck.
DP: Do you feel like you've been in a fight?
MA: Sometimes, depending on the race. There are some tracks that you expend all your energy and the next day you're absolutely junked. Then there are other tracks that are easier. It's weird but some tracks are just more physical than others. Some are easier physically but more a mental challenge than an oval. For instance road courses are physically and mentally challenging so you have to really be in shape when driving one.
DP: What's the worse injury that you've driven with?
MA: Driven with?
MA: I had a bad crash at Nazareth and I was actually in the hospital with a concussion and I couldn't even hold my neck up. I raced like a week later. I remember I was at Elkhart Lake and when I went into the braking zone, my head would just flat out go straight down. I couldn't hold it up. So that was a tough time. Luckily, I dropped out of the race early because I don't think I would have made it.
DP: They couldn't come up with a brace to keep your neck up?
MA: We were trying but you can't restrict yourself too much because you've got to drive. That was a tough deal.
DP: How are your eyes as far as eyesight goes?
How important is that to what you do?
MA: Eyesight is important. My eyesight is - my right eye is 20:15 and my left eye is 20:10.
DP: Oh man, that's some serious eyesight.
MA: I've got good eyes.
DP: I would imagine that you would have to have great eyes in that sport.
MA: I think it definitely helps, for sure.
DP: But do you find yourself seeing things before they unfold? We've talked about Gretzky and how he would see a play two or three plays before it developed.
MA: Absolutely. You definitely see that and I think that comes when your mind goes to another level. When your adrenaline and everything starts kicking in, you just find another level of consciousness. And you see things so much differently when you get to that level. It's really a weird experience, actually.
DP: Is it like being in a zone?
MA: Yeah, you're in a zone. All of a sudden you feel it and things are happening really slow for you. It's like when you first get in the race car and go, before you really get your adrenaline going everything is coming at you so fast you think, oh God, there's no way. And then your body adjusts and your mind adjusts and next thing you know, things are coming at you slow. You don't realize how fast you're going any more.
DP: Yeah, but if you were going to take me, put me in your car, what would be the one thing I would have to have immediately to be successful at driving a car like that?
MA: That's a difficult one. I think you're really born with the feel of driving something. The reason I say that is because I see it with my kids. Like my son, Marco, when he was three years old, he just had a feel for it. I mean, he jumped on a four-wheeler and had total control of it. When he'd start to get in a little over his head, he'd know what to do to adjust to it. And it's just something that wasn't taught to him, he just did it. And I think that feel is something you're born with.
DP: And he was three and he jumped on a four-wheeler?
MA: He was unbelievable. It was funny because I was taking him for rides and I had to jump off to answer the phone. I remember it like it was yesterday, I had the thing running and he was sitting on it as I watch him the whole time. He was looking at me out of the side of his eyes and, all of a sudden, he starts driving it. I'm really watching close and the kid just had total control. I was amazed.
DP: Okay, how long did it take before your wife heard that story?
MA: Oh, I don't know. It was no problem.
DP: She didn't care?
MA: It's my ex-wife now. I don't think it was that big of a deal for her.
DP: Yeah, right.
MA: But what was amazing to me was seeing that. You could put another kid on the bike and they'd have no feel. But then you'd put another kid on and they would have no feel. My daughter, for example, has no feel at all.
DP: But is it hands?
That you just grab the wheel and there's a feel that you have?
Does it just feel right in your hands?
MA: Yeah I guess. You just have the feeling and coordination for it. Some people have it and some don't.
DP: Can you believe Michael Schumacher makes the money he makes?
DP: I mean, that's phenomenal.
MA: It is but guys like Aryton Senna used to blow away everybody else as well. The money that's being spent on a driver sounds big but when compared to the rest of a budget. It's not out of line with the money they're spending.
DP: Can you say somebody's the best driver in the world?
MA: Schumacher. I believe he is at this moment. But I believe Aryton Senna was every bit as good as him if not better.
DP: But if I put Schumacher in NASCAR, would he still be the best driver?
MA: Yeah, I believe he would. He's a natural talent, got a great feel and all that. But I've got to say he was very smart the way he did things. He's very good. I guess you could compare him to Aryton, but I don't think he's as great as Aryton was. The reason I say that is because Schumacher has had a team totally built around him. In Formula One, that's a big advantage that's helped him look really good.