The saddest words spoken by men: “It might have been.”
Those words echo in many different ways for Indy car drivers when they look back on the years and seasons past. Offseason is the time drivers look at their stats, relive their races and reflect. They relive the good moments and bad.
Recently, Marco Andretti was rethinking the 2016 season. In Indianapolis 500 qualifying, fifth and sixth gears were switched in the gearbox and reduced one of the fastest cars on the grounds to a car that could only start on the center of Row 5. In the race, front tires were switched on a pit stop and further added to frustration and failure. Andretti said it affected the rest of his season.
Form my experience, Marco is a pleasant man with a wonderful sense of humor. He is also self-reflective. And he feels and understands the pressure of being a third-generation driver. The good and the bad.
There was a time early on when Michael Andretti realized his son wasn’t enjoying his success in go-karts. Marco had to step away from racing a short while until he was sure it was a life for him. Michael told Marco that he was not required to be a race driver. He didn’t need to follow the family legacy. In saying that, his dad took away the burden and Marco began to love racing again.
Marco has had two great teachers. His father and grandfather are both champions. Most would think that is an advantage. It is but there is a downside. Marco’s grandfather, Mario, drives differently than Marco’s dad. Mario wanted to be quickest every time he took to the track. Michael would focus on the race and the car setup, but nailed it when required. Both pushed their views on Marco. Right now, Marco leans toward Mario’s style.
This year, Marco will have the calm and brilliant approach of Bryan Herta in his camp as tactician. The man who thought out the tactics that won the 100th Indianapolis 500. When he relayed his plan to his driver Alexander Rossi, then talked him through it and kept him calm. Can he do the same for Marco?
But it’s not just Marco I’m talking about. All the drivers know there are a finite number of opportunities, only so many miles in a career. Every second of track time is huge. Every misstep can be costly and haunting. The past needs to be analyzed, then put behind. The rear-view mirrors of history need taping over. The new teams must gel immediately. There is only the road ahead. The 2017 season and the 101st Indianapolis 500 are upon us. As Rudolf Caracciola, the great driver of the 1930s, famously said, “To race is to live. All the rest is simply waiting.”
The waiting is over.
Paul Page is the retired longtime "Voice of the 500" both on television and for the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.