Growing up in the Andretti household, the first family of IndyCar racing, could have taken its toll on a less mature driver. The pressure to win at Indy was unavoidable, like seeing an impromptu mud-wrestling match in the famed Snake Pit.
For Marco Andretti, the youngest driver in the legendary Andretti clan, it was a motivator. He remembers seeing the flash of the cameras when he was only 9-years-old cruising around go-kart tracks.
"It's added pressure, but it's something I've had since I've driven these things," said Andretti, pointing to go-karts during a recent media day event at the Lehigh Valley Grand Prix indoor karting venue in Allentown. "At 9-years-old you're not mature enough to wrap your head around how that can be a positive for you. It's all, 'What are all these cameras doing? I just want to go race.' At the same time, you grow up and you mature, and you're blessed with good sponsors and you realize you wouldn't be able to do what you love to do without the pressure, and without the sponsors, and without the media."
It wasn't that long ago that a 19-year-old Andretti was preparing for his first Indianapolis 500, a race that saw him take second in the second-closest Indy 500 in history.
"It's crazy," he said. "I'm going into my eighth Indianapolis 500 already."
Now, a seasoned vet at just 26, he enters this weekend's Indianapolis 500 brimming with confidence. He posted the third-fastest qualifying time last weekend and ranks second in the points standings (123).
"I've always said I wanted the championship and I wanted Indy, and I always knew since my rookie year  that Indy was a reality," Andretti said. "This is the first time in my career where I truly believe that I can win the championship. It would be huge [to win it]. I would look at last year as a horrible season, having said that, I was the car to beat last year at Indianapolis."
He's right. Andretti led for 59 laps there in 2012 before wrecking with 12 laps to go. The biggest thing he's learned this past offseason is patience.
"You can be on top of the world one day and nowhere the next, and I think you need to be mentally prepared for that," he said. "And just take it in strides and learn to fight until the end -- even if I'm in 16th with two stints to go, you know, I'll be watching our cars for sure."
The Andretti Curse
There's been some heartbreak at Indy for the entire Andretti family. In fact, it has its own Wikipedia entry titled, "The Andretti Curse."
Family patriarch Mario Andretti won the Indy 500 in 1969 — and no one in his lineage has won the race since. Marco Andretti (Mario's grandson) has had many close calls, including a second-place finish in 2006. In 2007, he led most of the way before crashing out on the backstretch. Marco finished in third twice (2008, 2010); and probably should have won last year after leading for 59 laps. Again, he crashed with 12 laps to go and was disqualified.
"I've been close three times," Marco said. "Patience is something I've learned."
As much as Marco wants to win at Indianapolis — and he wants to win the "Super Bowl" badly — he also wants to win the overall IndyCar points championship. While he is still searching for his first win of the season, he enters the weekend off to the best start of his career, with two top-5 finishes in four starts.
"I'm hungry for a win, I mean, having my teammates win three of the first four races its kind of frustrating," Marco said. "I worked hard on consistency in the offseason and we're right on target with that. I'm quite pleased. This used to be the toughest part of the schedule for me, and it's nice to see results on the part of the schedule where I've been lacking."
Racing Marco Andretti
Marco Andretti invited the media to join him on the kart track May 8 for a very friendly racing competition. It was part of media day festivities promoting the upcoming Pocono IndyCar 400 at Pocono Speedway (July 6-7 in Long Pond, Pa.) There will more on the event very soon.
» Anyway, Metro sports editor Mike Greger gladly accepted the challenge — and promptly got dusted on the track.
» Andretti beat a field of eight media members, recording a best-lap time of 30.947 seconds.
» Greger was lapped quite a few times by Andretti before turning in a best-lap time of 40.257, good enough for dead last.