John Andretti dies at 56

by Justin Nguyen

During his racing career, John Andretti enjoyed many successes from winning in the NASCAR Cup Series to IndyCar. On Thursday, Andretti Autosport announced the racing veteran has passed away at the age of 56 after a battle with cancer.

“It is with the heaviest of hearts we share that John Andretti has today lost his battle with cancer,” a team statement read. “John was a loving husband and father, a devoted son 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.”

In 2017, Andretti revealed his bout with colon cancer, sparking the hashtag #CheckIt4Andretti to encourage others to have colonoscopies. Despite positive developments in his recovery, the cancer returned in spring 2019.

“Through Race4Riley, John spent decades dedicating his time and fundraising attention to Riley Hospital for Children,” the team continued. “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 others 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, #Checklt4Andretti.”

Part of the great Andretti family, he was a longtime driver in the now-defunct CART series. In 1991, he won at Surfers Paradise Street Circuit and recorded his career-best run in the Indianapolis 500 of fifth. His second and final podium in the series at Milwaukee Mile that year helped propel him to a career-high eighth-place points finish. From 2007 to 2011, he returned to open-wheel cars as he made sporadic starts in the IndyCar Series, including five starts in the 500.

Credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In 1994, as he began transitioning into stock cars, he became the first driver to attempt the Indianapolis 500/Coca-Cola 600 “Double Duty”: he finished tenth in the 500 before boarding a helicopter to Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he finished thirty-sixth in the 600 after suffering a broken crankshaft. In the years since, he raced full-time in the Cup Series for teams like Hagan Racing, Kranefuss-Haas Racing, Cale Yarborough Motorsports, Petty Enterprises, and Front Row Motorsports.

“John Andretti embodies the spirit of a champion and inspired an entire fan base through his courageous battle with cancer,” NASCAR President Steve Phelps stated. “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.”

Driving the famed #43 car for Petty, he scored his first Cup win at Daytona International Speedway in 1997. Another victory came on the short track at Martinsville Speedway two years later. Sandwiched between the two victories was his best points finish of eleventh in 1998, a season that saw him record ten top-ten finishes, three top fives, and a pole. In 393 career Cup races from 1993 to 2010, he has two wins, thirteen top fives, thirty-seven top tens, and four poles.

“On behalf of everyone at Martinsville Speedway I want to share my deepest condolences to Nancy, Jarett, Olivia, Amelia and the entire Andretti family. John was a winner in everything he set out to do and always did it with class and dignity,” Martinsville track president Clay Campbell said. “One of my fondest memories with him was watching him celebrate his victory at Martinsville Speedway in 1999. Although John’s courageous battle with cancer might be over, his memory and legacy will be remembered for years to come by everyone who was fortunate to know him.”

Outside of Indy and stock cars, Andretti also established himself as one of motorsport’s most versatile names. He won the 1989 24 Hours of Daytona and scored victories in sprint cars, and even reached the semifinals in his National Hot Road Association drag racing début in 1993.

“Rest In Peace #JohnAndretti,” cousin Marco tweeted. “The best godfather. Your passion for Motorsport was admirable. Always the good ones we lose too soon”.

John Andretti: March 12, 1963 – January 30, 2020

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