CORNING, New York – Mario Andretti has been honored in so many ways over the years, but he said Thursday night’s International Motor Racing Research Center’s awards dinner at the Corning Museum of Glass was unique.
Andretti received the Cameron R. Argetsinger Award for lifetime contributions to motorsports. Argetsinger was the founder of racing in nearby Watkins Glen.
The International Motor Racing Research Center houses one of the finest collections of historical motorsports documents, and it is located within four miles of Watkins Glen International, site of Andretti’s first Formula One race – he won the pole for that 1968 event – and where the Verizon IndyCar Series is racing this weekend in the INDYCAR Grand Prix at The Glen.
The list of people honoring Andretti on Thursday included Rick Mears, Chip Ganassi, Bobby Rahal and Dario Franchitti. Sending video tributes were Roger Penske, Dan Gurney, Bobby Unser, Richard Petty, Danny Sullivan, George Follmer and Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. Ganassi, Petty and Penske are past recipients of the Argetsinger award.
“I just told (Rahal) this is the greatest thing in my life,” said Andretti, shown above (center) receiving the award from Rahal (right) and Peter Argetsinger, the son of Cameron Argetsinger. “I have never, ever, ever experienced something like this. I could not have imagined an event like this.”
Jay Frye, INDYCAR’s president of competition and operations, was among those paying tribute to Andretti. Frye introduced video congratulations from Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Graham Rahal, Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe before thanking Andretti for safely giving Frye’s wife, Danielle, a ride in Honda’s two-seat Indy car.
“She’s the mother of our 13- and 11-year-old daughters,” Frye said. “That’s trust.”
Several speakers mentioned the thousands of rides Andretti has given to celebrities and fans in Honda’s Fastest Seat in Sports Indy car, hailing Andretti as the sport’s best ambassador. One of those rides went to singer Lady Gaga, who genuinely seemed gaga in meeting the legendary driver at the 2016 Indianapolis 500. Andretti was similarly enthralled.
Franchitti told the crowd estimated at 300 that his parents discussed naming him after the 1978 world champion, four-time Indy car champion and 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner. Ganassi spoke of being 11 years old when he first got Andretti’s autograph.
Andretti is the only driver to have won the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500 and an F1 title, a feat Ganassi said will never be matched.
“He is simply the greatest of all time – it’s that simple,” Ganassi said.
Unser repeatedly complimented his one-time Team Penske teammate, though at one point his taped remarks had to be bleeped out.
Said Andretti afterward: “I never thought Bobby Unser would be so sweet to me.”
Even the invocation honored Andretti. The priest mentioned refugees who moved to a foreign land and settled in Nazareth. “And the Andrettis did, too,” he joked.
“All of it means I’ve lived the dream,” Andretti said. “I’m still living it.”
Asked how he’d like to be remembered, Andretti said: “Just a racer.”