The race cars they’d seen in Italy had been outrageously exotic, but the coupes and sedans at Nazareth were hopped-up junkyard heaps. Lucky again! If Grand Prix racing was the sport of kings, this was a commoner’s game. Mario put it this way: “It was within our reach.”
They began stashing the money they earned pumping gas. By the autumn of 1958, they’d saved enough to buy a battered ’48 Hudson Hornet. Utilizing shop space and tools made available by a friendly contractor, they started work on their first modified.
All of this was kept hidden from their parents, and for good reason: To Gigi Andretti, racing was for fools. Hadn’t Ascari been killed just two weeks before the Andrettis boarded the Conte Biancamano? And what about that awful crash at Le Mans that killed more than 80 spectators? Demenziale! Madness.
Quietly, the boys toiled on that Hudson.
From the start, they agreed to take turns driving. Aldo went first, on an April Sunday in 1959. He started last in his heat, but blasted through traffic to win it. In the longer main event, he was able to take his time and he won that, too. The brothers collected $10 for the heat and $80 for the feature. Back they came a week later, with Mario at the wheel. The results were identical: heat victory, feature victory, $90 payday.
They won some and crashed some, with papa Gigi none the wiser. But their act imploded when the twins hauled 40 miles south to Hatfield Speedway for an autumn 100-lapper. Having picked up a ride in somebody’s coupe, Mario qualified in the first heat. In the second, the Andretti Hudson was reeling in the leaders until Aldo brushed the wooden fence. The boards snagged the car, tossing it into the air. In the violent flipping, something split Aldo’s helmet. Unconscious, he was rushed to a local hospital.
When Mario phoned home, his mother answered, but Mario had his father in mind. Terrified by how Gigi might react, Mario did what boys in trouble do: He lied. He told this mother that he’d been the one in the race car, and that poor Aldo, innocently watching, had fallen off a truck and gotten the wind knocked out of him. They’d be home in the morning, he said.
But as dawn broke, Aldo was in a coma and doctors insisted they needed to speak to this boy’s parents. Mario drove home and came clean about the whole thing. Gigi Andretti, Old Country old-school, reacted the only way he knew how.
“He pounded me,” said Mario, “until he ran out of gas.”
It was two weeks before Aldo regained consciousness. Mario sat by his bedside, whispering about the new car he was building, believing that would speed Aldo’s recovery.
For months, Gigi Andretti barely spoke to his sons. But they were racers now and that wasn’t going to change. In 1960, Mario and that new car, a ’37 Hudson, won at multiple tracks.
The problem was that by now, he knew America offered more than crude stock cars on dim dirt tracks. What about this Indianapolis 500 that captivated the nation every Memorial Day?
“My objective,” he said, “was to get into single-seaters.”