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Family affair has Mario redesigning his plans

Updated:
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Mario Andretti has come to Indianapolis as a defending champion, a fan favorite, a villain and a father.

He's raced against his son Michael, assisted in his pit and even tried to help his race team when he considered coming back several years ago.

Yes, the Andretti paterfamilias has endured almost conceivable contingency at the Brickyard.

But he's never arrived on race day with an internal debate still raging quite like this one.

When his son and grandson, Marco, drive onto the track Sunday, Andretti knows only that he will stand somewhere along pit row.

Exactly where still remains in doubt.

``I'll probably start with Michael and then see who has the best headset,'' he said.

Sunday's race could be the most unnerving ever for the former race winner who made 29 career starts here before retiring in 1994.

Michael has led more laps (426) than any other non-winner at Indy and hopes once again to end the family's almost four-decade quest to drive into Victory Lane. Mario won in 1969, then spent a quarter century chasing a second win that never came.

In 1984, father and son started racing against each but the two were so busy driving their own cars there was no time to worry about what the other was doing.

Now there's another Andretti father-son duel, this time between 43-year-old Michael and 19-year-old Marco.

``I do have big shoes to fill,'' the 5-foot-6 rookie said. ``But even if I didn't have my father and grandfather, I think I'd still want to win the same things I do now.''

For the proud father and loving grandfather, whose family is about to join an exclusive fraternity of three-generation drivers, the toughest choice is who to root for.

He wants Marco to stay safe, drive well and finish in the lead pack. Yet he also understands Michael's comeback from a two-year retirement may not be complete if can't earn the one victory that has eluded him.

``There's a whole new excitement for me about this race,'' Mario said.

While the month has been uneventful for the Andrettis in terms of crashes, the pressure has been evident.

After qualifying 13th last weekend, Michael walked into the trackside interview room and nervously watched in silence as Marco made his four-lap qualifying run. When it ended, Marco, like his father and grandfather before him, was the fastest rookie qualifier in the 33-car field at 224.918 mph.

Marco will start ninth.

But it wasn't until the run ended that Michael's arms and legs stopped shaking and he started answering questions.

``It's a great feeling, a feeling of relief, too, because this day is the worst in terms of pressure,'' Michael said afterward. ``I know it was for me, so I can't imagine what it was like for him. I've been here a long time and it's still nerve-racking.''

Only two other families, the Foyts and the Vukoviches, have had three generations compete here. The Foyts had four-time winner A.J., his son Larry and grandson A.J. IV; the Vukoviches had two-time winner Bill, son Bill Jr. and grandson Bill III.

But neither patriarch was in the situation Mario finds himself in this weekend.

The eldest Vukovich was killed in the 1955 race. And while Larry Foyt and A.J. IV raced against each other twice, grandfather A.J. also was the team owner.

Unlike Foyt, Mario Andretti has no vested interest in Andretti Green Racing's fortunes _ other than the strong family connection that tugs at his emotions.

``When Marco was testing, he surprised us in every way because it seemed like the more you threw at him, the more he relished the challenge,'' Mario said.

``I've always said Michael retired at the top of his game,'' he added. ``Honestly, I think he still is.''

So what would Mario's preference be Sunday? That both do well and an Andretti winds up with the Borg-Warner Trophy.

``Michael's coming back for some unfinished business and I think he's truly capable of putting this thing together,'' Mario said. ``If I had a wish, I'd like to see Michael first and Marco second.''
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