Whether you’re a diehard auto racing fan or just a casual spectator, you’ve likely heard the name Mario Andretti. Boasting a career spanning more than 30 years, Andretti pretty much did it all, racing in everything from Formula One to IndyCar to USAC to NASCAR. With a Formula One World Championship, four IndyCar titles, and numerous other awards and accolades under his belt, Andretti will not only go down as a racing legend, but an overall sports icon.
Of course, despite having plenty of victories throughout his career, Andretti had his fair share defeats, too. And, many of those crushing defeats came at the Indianapolis 500. Yet, even in defeat, Andretti was really something else to watch on the track. In the above remastered footage from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we get an incredible POV look at Andretti running a lap during the 1966 Indy 500. It’s hard to imagine that this happened more than 50 years ago. Just check out at how amazing that looks!
Now, like 28 of his 29 attempts at the Indy 500, Andretti’s ’66 running ended in disappointment. Despite leading for 11 laps, he eventually had to drop out due to a valve issue. It wasn’t until three years later, at the 1969 Indy 500, when Andretti took his first, and only, trip to victory lane at the Indianapolis race.
Unfortunately, this win came with a steep price and spawned what many refer to as the “Andretti Curse,” which kicked off a string of bad luck at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that not only affected Mario, but also his son Michael, his son Jeff, his nephew John, and his grandson Marco. Reputation wise, most racers probably couldn’t bounce back from a “curse” of that magnitude. But most racers aren’t Mario Andretti.
What Happened at the 1966 Indianapolis 500?
Mario Andretti’s valve issue wasn’t even close to being the only mishap at the 1966 Indy 500. Following a first-lap crash involving Billy Foster and Gordon Johncock, 11 racers were eliminated right off the bat, including Foster, A.J. Foyt, Gary Congdon, Cale Yarborough, Arnie Knepper, Al Miller, Bobby Grim, Larry Dickson, Ronnie Duman, Billy Foster, Don Branson, and Dan Gurney (who you may remember for his famous Eagle car and as the founder of All American Racers). Though they were also involved in the crash Johncock, Carl Williams, Mel Kenyon, Joe Leonard, and Bud Tingelstad, were able to successfully restart the race.
Of the 33 competitors, only SEVEN ultimately finished, marking the fewest finishers ever in an Indy 500. But, the problems didn’t stop there.
Despite a promising run from rookie Jackie Stewart — who led for 40 laps in John Mecom’s Lola T90-Ford, but was eliminated after his oil pressure dropped too low — Firestone-sponsored Graham Hill was declared the winner, with Jim Clark getting second and Jim McElreath getting third. However, this victory was marred in controversy, as Clark and his Lotus team thought that should have been declared winners. It was later theorized that when Al Unser’s car, having been painted nearly identical to Clarks, crashed out on lap 161, Clark was mistakenly dinged, leading to him dropping back significantly in the restart position.
Unfortunately for Clark, when the standings were released the day after the race, they remained unchanged and Colin Chapman and Andy Granatelli, the entrants of Clark’s Lotus team, declined to file an official protest. Apparently Mario Andretti wasn’t the only racer to have bad luck at the Indy 500.
This post was originally published on May 24, 2019.