Former Indy car and NASCAR race winner John Andretti, 56, has died after a long battle with colon cancer.
The Bethlehem, PA native revealed three years ago that he was battling stage 4 colon cancer, and while a strong course of chemotherapy that year led to him being given the all-clear, it returned with a vengeance in Spring 2018 and it had been an uphill battle for him ever since.
Son of Mario Andretti’s twin brother Aldo, John initially followed the family’s path in open-wheel racing, while retaining his uncle Mario’s penchant for diversity. Andretti won the IMSA sportscar race at Watkins Glen in 1986 driving a March-BMW M12 with Davy Jones, and clinched victory in the 1989 Rolex 24 at Daytona, sharing the Miller High Life Porsche 962 with Bob Wollek and Derek Bell. John also won USAC sprint car races on dirt and even made the semi-finals in an NHRA Top Fuel event!
In Indy cars, Andretti won the inaugural CART Indy car race at Surfers Paradise in 1991 driving for Jim Hall’s team. Just a couple months later at Milwaukee, John lost to cousin Michael but beat Mario to complete an all-Andretti sweep of the podium, and John went on to finish eighth in the championship – a position he achieved again the following year thanks to a cluster of top-five finishes.
Despite a couple of Top 10 finishes for AJ Foyt Racing in the Indy 500, Andretti spent the mid-late 1990s and early 2000s focused on NASCAR competition, scoring wins in the 1997 Pepsi 400 at Daytona and the Goody’s 500 at Martinsville in ’99.
However, in 2007 he returned to the Indy 500 with Panther Racing and his talent seemed undimmed, as further Speedway outings with Roth Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Andretti Autosport would prove.
However, aside from his racing exploits, John Andretti was also as good, polite and amusing person as you could hope to find in a motorsport paddock, and he was involved in much charitable work.
An official statement from the Andretti family today read as follows:
“It is with the heaviest of hearts we share that John Andretti has today lost his battle with cancer. John was a loving husband and father, a devoted on and a trusted cousin. He was a philanthropist, an advocate for the sport, a dedicated teammate, a driven competitor and most importantly a dear friend.
“Through Race4Riley, John spent decades dedicating his time and fundraising to Riley Hospital for Children. When first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2017, John vowed to fight back and use his voice to help spread the word of prevention and early detection.
“He fought hard and stole back days the disease vowed to take away. He helped countless other undergo proper screening, and in doing so, saved lives.
"We will forever carry with us John’s genuine spirit of helping others first and himself second. Our prayers today are with Nancy, Jarett, Olivia and Amelia, with our entire family and with fans worldwide.
“We urge all our followers to, please, #CheckIt4Andretti.”
Penske Entertainment Corp. president & CEO Mark Miles, on behalf of IndyCar and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, said: "John Andretti's skills behind the wheel of any kind of racecar were admired by his millions of fans around the world, and he always returned that loyalty and kindness to become one of the most popular drivers of his generation.
"But John's true mission was helping others, whether through his countless hours of charity work, especially with Riley Children's Hospital here in Indianapolis, or by the colon screening campaign he started in April 2017 after he was diagnosed with cancer. John's positive attitude and selflessness throughout his brave fight inspired all of us and will be a legacy that will continue forever.
"We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Nancy, their three children and the entire Andretti family."
IMSA President John Doonan said: “We are devastated by the news that our dear friend, John Andretti, has passed away. John was an extremely talented IMSA racer, as his 1989 Rolex 24 victory and three other victories will attest. But he was one of the most versatile racers ever, winning races in IndyCar and NASCAR and reaching the pinnacle of top fuel drag racing as well.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with John’s family, friends and many colleagues, and he will be missed by many throughout our motorsports community.”
NASCAR President Steve Phelps said: “John Andretti embodied the spirit of a champion and inspired an entire fan base through his courageous battle with cancer. He was a fierce competitor throughout his life, and we are saddened by his passing. The entire NASCAR family extends its deepest condolences and prayers to John’s family.”
John Andretti, Bob Wollek and Derek Bell head to Daytona 24 Hours victory in 1989 driving a Porsche 962.
Photo by: Sutton Images
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