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Wednesday, April 23
Updated: April 25, 11:03 AM ET
Mario will not qualify Kanaan's car
By Robin Miller
Special to ESPN.com
INDIANAPOLIS -- One day after wrecking during a test run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mario Andretti consulted with his family and decided there was little chance of him racing here again.
Andretti cited the combination of the crash and driver Tony Kanaan coming back from injury sooner than initially expected for his decision.
"I've given it some thought,'' he said. "If I had an ongoing career, I would have no problem getting back in the car. All of a sudden, I have to start using at least an ounce of wisdom.''
Wednesday had been one of the most satisfying days of Andretti's amazing life. At 63, he hopped back into an Indy car for the first time in nine years and, less than 50 hot laps into testing, was already running speeds of more than 226 mph.
But, just two minutes before the track closed for the day, all hell broke loose in front of the legend.
Sweeping through Turn 1 with the throttle wide open, Andretti found the short chute littered with debris from Kenny Brack's car, which had just pounded the outside wall. Andretti's car ran over a piece of Brack's car and launched the 1969 Indy 500 winner into the air like Evel Knievel.
His car soared some 20-to-25 feet in the air, nearly cleared the spectator fence and somersaulted four times before slamming back down to earth -- thankfully -- rightside up.
Andretti hopped out and, incredibly, only suffered a scrape on his chin. Brack also escaped injury.
"It was pretty wild," Andretti told a smattering of media in Gasoline Alley a half-hour after his monstrous accident. "There was debris all over the place and the piece I hit wasn't very big, but it was solid and that launched me.
"All I saw was sky but I was lucky. I landed on my wheels. It could have been a lot worse."
Andretti, the oldest driver to ever test an Indy car, drove more than 50 laps and turned a top lap of 225.4 mph. Last year at Indy, the 33rd car in the field had a qualifying speed of 227.096.
Tomas Scheckter also escaped injury after crashing hard earlier in the afternoon.
Naturally, because of his age and inactivity, the first question addressed Andretti's reflexes -- would he have seen the yellow light or avoided the crash if this were 25 years ago?
"There was no yellow light and it happened so fast there wasn't any time for anyone to warn me," he said. "I came out of Turn 1 at full throttle and all of the sudden there was debris everywhere.
"The debris was still moving across the track, so it wasn't like the accident had been sitting there for a second or two. I needed another second to react to it. If there would have been another second, they could have warned me."
Brack, who said the IMS SAFER Barrier cushioned the impact of his car, felt a bump and then watched Andretti slide past him.
"I lifted going into Turn 1 because something didn't feel right, but at the apex of the corner my car just spun around," said Brack, who won the 1999 Indy 500. "We're investigating what happened, but I've got to say I braced myself for a big impact and that SAFER wall made it a nothing crash."
In a career that spanned five decades and included 52 Indy car victories and the 1978 Formula One championship, Andretti has never been seriously injured.
"Up until the accident everything was awesome," he said. "We were learning things about the car and, from my standpoint, I surprised myself that I was back in the groove so quickly. We were making small changes and the car was responding beautifully.
"All we needed was another two minutes and we would have walked away very happy."
Andretti was testing the car owned by his son, Michael, and usually driven by Kanaan, who is recovering from a broken left arm and may not be recovered in time to qualify for the May 25 race. Mario had agreed to practice and, if necessary, qualify before turning the car back over to Kanaan for race day.
After saying he probably won't need to take the Indy Racing League stress test come May ("I think I passed that today," Mario said), the man who led 556 laps at Indy but only came away with one victory here was asked about the Andretti Curse. Wasn't this a good example of it?
"No, I'm very lucky to be standing here right now," he replied with a grin. "I'm very blessed. The Man Upstairs has been taking care of me for so many years. I can't see him giving up now.
"It wasn't how I wanted the day to end but it wasn't anyone's fault. It's just one of those things that happens in racing. I just feel bad about Michael's car."
Andretti crashed six times at Indy between 1971 and 1992. In 1981, he thought he won the race after Bobby Unser was penalized for passing a line of cars during a yellow caution period, but four months later a USAC appeals panel overturned the penalty and gave the victory to Unser.
In 1985, Andretti led 107 laps but finished second to Danny Sullivan, who won despite spinning. Two years later, Andretti started from the pole and dominated for 170 laps before his car went dead with a bad ignition 20 laps from the finish. In his final race at Indy in 1994, a problem in the fuel system knocked him out after just 23 laps.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.Send this story to a friend | Most sent stories