(Reuters) – After more than five decades of Brickyard frustration the “Andretti Curse” has become as much a part of the Indianapolis 500 as the command for drivers to “start your engines”.
American motor racing royalty, the Andrettis have ruled over open wheel racing in the United States with a string of victories that have connected generations — father (Mario), to son (Michael), to grandson (Marco).
But for all their success at circuits around the world, Mario’s Indy 500 victory in 1969 stands alone.
Over the years what was first shrugged off as bad luck, became cruel misfortune then later a full blown jinx that now ranks right up there with the Boston Red Sox “Curse of the Bambino” and Chicago Cubs’ “Curse of the Billy Goat”.
For those looking for signs that whatever voodoo planted on the Andrettis will be lifted this year, there were hints on Sunday that something was different when 33-year-old Marco grabbed pole position 33-years after Mario was the last Andretti to start from the front.
The Andrettis have happily played along when it comes to the curse, neither embracing or dismissing it.
Marco routinely turns the tables saying his family is not cursed but blessed while at the same time conceding the results suggest darker forces at work.
A theory this year has the curse thrown out of whack by the COVID-19 pandemic which forced the Indy 500 to move from its traditional May 24th date to Aug. 23.
“I don’t think it (the curse) exists in August so we are good,” Andretti told Reuters with a laugh. “As a family we would talk that we are blessed not cursed but it is a cool media story and we have been running with it.
“Results wise, yeah, maybe there is something to it because man the three of us have been so dominate here.
“We have a bunch of podiums but this is one place where that doesn’t matter.”
Certainly when it comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Andrettis relationship has been more star-crossed than aligned.
Marco’s father Michael, has been a five-times winner of the Indy 500 as a team owner but 16 times as a driver could not get to Victory Lane.
In his 2006 rookie season Marco finished second but has never been that close again.
An American driver winning the Indianapolis 500 will have fans waving the Stars and Stripes – an Andretti winning “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” would bring fireworks.
Fans, drivers and anyone connected to motor racing understands what the Andretti name means to the sport.
When Marco’s name flashed at the top of the timing tower on Sunday social media exploded and the pit lane applauded.
Fellow drivers ran to Marco’s car to offer congratulations while his father hugged him and fought back tears.
Due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols there will be no spectators in grandstands that normally would be packed with close to 300,000 motor racing fans.
Either way Andretti says he will still feel the support.
“Just feeling the support from the pole I can’t even imagine what it would be like if we won the race,” said Marco. “You would see a few grown men cry.
“Just seeing the videos of fans across the street wearing my jersey, that’s so cool and the unwavering support on social media.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Christian Radnedge)