This most recent Sunday was pretty eventful for me. I got the chance to ride up to Napa, California with the Ferrari Club of Northern California. Our destination? Mario Andretti’s vineyard. Let me clarify, he is a co-owner of the winery and, to my knowledge, doesn’t hang out there much. Needless to say, I wasn’t really expecting to meet the man himself. Well, I did.
First off, Mario is an amazing human being. If you don’t know his history, let me recap it for you ever so gracefully. Mr. Andretti is one of only two drivers to win races in Formula One, IndyCar, World Sportscar Championship and NASCAR. He remains the only driver ever to win the Indianapolis 500 (1969), Daytona 500 (1967) and the Formula One World Championship. At his date of retirement, Andretti had 109 career wins on major circuits. The three time United States Driver of the Year isn’t simply a human being, he’s a supernatural driving machine. His presence is coveted amongst car lovers and racing fans almost as much as the late Enzo Ferrari himself.
The best part? You’d think he’d be a bit smug after such an iconic driving career, but he’s the furthest thing from it. Hands down Mario Andretti is one of the most humble superstars I’ve ever had the chance to hear speak. While mingling with the Ferrari club owners, chatting about cars and sipping wine of course, Mario didn’t seem to be there to push his brand, but more for the love of automobile enthusiasm. Fielding questions left and right, he was approachable from any angle. Want your racing gloves signed? No problem. A picture with Mario? If you can wait in line, sure. To my surprise, he was even open to signing your car if you really wanted his John Hancock on your engine. A truly amazing celebrity.
I, however, did not ask for an autograph. Yea it would’ve been cool, but I was more enamored by his perspective and knowledge in regards to driving, cars, and life in general. Whether you wanted his input on race tracks, Michael Schumacher, or Danica Patrick, he’d give it to you honestly. He went into extraordinary depth and detail in regards to his past races – down to the turn. Maybe it was the wine, but believe me, I wasn’t the only one with my jaw hanging open. And then he got to the cars…
Mario, if you don’t know, sits on a throne next to no one when it comes to driving. He is, and may always be, the greatest driver to ever grab a wheel. That said, you knew the car questions were coming at some point. “What’s your favorite car, Mario?” was probably asked 6 different times, and his answer belted out instantly every single time.
“Whatever I can win with.”
If that doesn’t shoot chills down your spine, check your pulse. This is a guy who Lamborghini and Ferrari literally FIGHT OVER to test their cars. In fact, he has exclusive contracts with a number of manufactures to make sure their cars work the way they should. When it comes to glorified track times and test laps, this is the guy you want driving your company’s car. Most recently he had tested Lamborghini’s Aventador and the new Ferrari 458 Spyder in Europe. The question on my mind wasn’t about which of these super-duper-duper cars he loves the most, but rather what road car he’d like to get behind the wheel of on a regular basis. His answer? Acura’s new NSX.
I thought that was interesting. I thought the event was spectacular. And I think Mario is, once again, a truly amazing human being. Words cannot express how humble and inspiring his story is, and simply being in his presence made me feel like a better driver (or something like that). Other than giggling like a little child on the way home from the event, it was a pretty cool day to say the least.
Stay tuned for more on the event and the Ferrari Club coming this week. Photos, too!