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On This Date in Sports May 30, 1969: Hey Mario!!

Mario Andretti wins the Indianapolis 500 while running the race in a record time of 3:11:14.71, finishing more than two seconds ahead of Dan Gurney. Two years earlier, Andretti had won the Daytona 500. His win in Indianapolis makes him the first driver to win the two top American races in his career. A feat that would later be duplicated by A.J. Foyt.

Mario Andretti and his twin Aldo were born on February 28, 1940, in Istria, which was part of the Kingdom of Italy. After the war, Istria, now Croatia, became part of Yugoslavia, with ethnic Italians being forced to flee. The Andretti family ended up as refugees in Rome before emigrating to Pennsylvania in 1955. By the time he arrived in the United States, young Mario was involved in racing cars, starting with riding wooden cars when he was five.

After graduating high school, Mario Andretti worked as a welder as he found his way into local amateur races. He and his twin brother both participated in races on dirt tracks throughout the Leigh Valley, near their adopted hometown of Nazareth. In 1964, Mario Andretti became a U.S. Citizen as he joined the USAC circuit. A gifted racer, Andretti was able to get on some of the top racing teams in both Stock Car and Open Wheel Racing.

In 1967, Mario Andretti scored his first major win when he captured the checkered flag in the Daytona 500. However, his career in NASCAR was brief, as the circuit was largely confined to the Southeast, while open-wheel racing was more popular and afforded him many more opportunities. In 1965 Andretti earned Rookie of the Year while finishing third in the Indianapolis 500. A year later, he captured the pole as he quickly was becoming one of the most popular drivers in the United States.

The 1969 season was the best of Mario Andretti’s career, as he won nine races, including the Indianapolis 500. In the 53rd running at the Brickyard, it was A.J. Foyt who had the pole when the race began. However, it was clear that Andretti had the best car as he held the lead for 116 laps. The power of the engine in his Ford owned by Andy Granetti was second to none as the final 110 laps were run without a caution. This helped Mario Andretti to set a new time record at 3:11:14.71, beating Dan Gunery by more than two seconds at the finish line.

Surprisingly the 1969 win was the only time Mario Andretti won the Indianapolis 500. He would go on to become one of the most well-known drivers in the world, even having success on Europe’s Formula One circuit. However, the Indianapolis 500 would become a source of heartbreak and frustration. Over the next 25 years, Andretti regularly led the most laps but always had some misfortune befall him, preventing him from earning a second Borg-Warner Trophy. The Andretti Curse would extend to both his son Jeff and nephew, John Andretti, as none were able to find success at the Indianapolis 500. The curse has even extended to grandson Marco Andretti, who has yet to win the Indianapolis 500.