Mario Andretti discussed his grandson Marco's breakout season and the rewarding experience of meeting fans at the grand opening of the Firestone Complete Auto Care store in Palatine Friday morning.
For over 40 years Andretti raced with Firestone tires underneath him during IndyCar, NASCAR and F1 series events. Nowadays, he spends his time rooting for his grandson and promoting Firestone as the company's official spokesman.
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"I cherish the fact that people have nice things to say about my career and my work," Andretti said about signing autographs and meeting fans. "There's no bigger compliment to me; it's so rewarding from my standpoint."
Fans like Todd Doerpinghaus of Palatine were just as happy to be at the event.
"It's been over 30 years since I started watching racing," Doerpinghaus said. "Finally, to meet him, is just unbelievable."
Andretti also thanked Firestone for the support shown to him over the years. His first work with the company was test driving its tires. All that practice helped him perform on race day.
"I could not have achieved what I have if it wasn't for Firestone," Andretti said. "I owe Firestone a great deal."
Five or six times a year, a fan could find Andretti at a Firestone event like the one Friday morning. He also attends corporate events, but he enjoys visiting stores just a bit more because of the special experience he gets by traveling to new places.
Andretti became a spokesman after he retired from racing, but he also became a fan. He roots for his grandson Marco, the top racer going into the Milwaukee IndyFest race Saturday, but he cannot help but feel nervous while watching.
"Believe it or not, to be on the racetrack at the same time (as his son Michael) was easier than being on the sideline and watching. This is when I began to appreciate what my wife has been going through all these years," Andretti joked.
"When you are on the sideline, I mean, I am just on pins and needles all the time. I'm not a good spectator."