The Robb Reader: Mario Andretti

  • Paul Meyers

More than 15 years after retiring from professional racing, Mario Andretti still shows no signs of slowing down. The Italian-born motorsports champion—who during his racing career won titles in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship, and NASCAR—has a namesake racing-experience facility in Charlotte, N.C.; acts as a brand ambassador for MagnaFlow Exhaust Products and Firestone; and is the proprietor of a winery in California’s Napa Valley. “I think the best part of my life is that I have always been able to do what I really enjoy,” says the 70-year-old Andretti, who resides with his wife, Dee Ann, in Pennsylvania. “Just like the cliché—if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. I don’t think that I have ever worked a day in my life.”

What are your passions outside the automotive arena?
I love wine. It’s part of the good life. Wine has been on the table my whole life—I was born and raised in Italy, you know. Not that I enjoyed it then, as a kid [laughs]; it’s really something that I developed a taste for over the years. I really started to appreciate wines in my thirties. I made my first trip to Napa Valley in the mid-1970s and have developed great friendships with the Mondavis and Cakebreads and many others over the years.

What is your favorite varietal?
I think that Sangiovese is a great wine. It’s a Tuscan varietal, but it’s just so versatile. You can enjoy it with lamb or fowl—or anything really. My winemaker at Andretti Winery, Bob Pepi, and his dad were the first ones to plant the Brunello [Sangiovese] grape in Napa Valley, in 1986. Most of my knowledge is from French and Italian wines. I have a wine cellar that has really become quite a collection over the years. I have a couple of bottles of 1944 [Château] Mar­gaux, along with Ornellaias, Solaias, Sassicaias, and Gajas. I also have a great collection of [Château] Pétrus.

Do you collect cars?
Not really. The only racecar I have as a collector car is the one I drove for my very last race. I really enjoy new cars. Right now I drive a Corvette ZR1 and have been really enjoying the Lamborghini Murciélago LP640 as well. I normally drive Ferraris, though, so these two cars are a bit of a change for me. What I really like about Lamborghinis is the design. They are much more radically styled than a Ferrari, and they are a lot of fun.

How often do you make it back to Italy?
I really love visiting my hometown of Montona, which is now a part of Croatia. It’s kind of a long story, but I am actually the mayor of the town for life. I also love to go back to the part of Italy near Trieste and Venice. So, yes, I love Italy.

What does living well mean to you?
Something I am particularly proud of is that I have been able to provide for my family. I think that is the biggest satisfaction I have gotten out of life. I have a property in the Poconos that’s about 600 acres with two lakes for my family to enjoy. One of my favorite things to do is go for a ride on my Honda CBR sportbike with my grandson. I guess you could say I am really into toys. I have all-terrain vehicles, race boats, tennis courts, and fun things like that. It really keeps my blood flowing.

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