John Andretti, whose diverse resume included victories in NASCAR, IndyCar and the Rolex 24, died Thursday after a lengthy battle with cancer, Andretti Autosport announced. He was 56.
Andretti was a versatile driver who competed and won in the NASCAR Cup Series and the CART IndyCar Series. He was the first driver to attempt the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 doubleheader in 1994, finishing 10th at Indy for A.J. Foyt Racing and 36th at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Billy Hagan.
He also was among the winning sports car team in the overall title at the 1989 Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway. In the NHRA, he raced a Top Fuel dragster in 1993 and reached the semifinals of a national event at Atlanta.
Andretti is survived by his wife, Nancy, and children Jarrett, Olivia and Amelia.
He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2017. In a tweet posted by Andretti Autosport (owned by John’s cousin, Michael), the team said John Andretti “vowed to fight back and use his voice to help spread the word of prevention and early detection. He fought hard and stole back days the disease vowed to take away.
“He helped countless others undergo proper screening and in doing so, saved lives. We will forever carry with us John’s genuine spirit of helping others first and himself second. Our prayers today are with Nancy, Jarrett, Olivia and Amelia, with our entire family, and with fans worldwide. We urge all our followers to, please, #CheckIt4Andretti.”
The nephew of racing legend Mario Andretti raced in NASCAR’s premier series full time from 1994-2003, including six seasons with Petty Enterprises.
He won the 400-mile race at Daytona International Speedway in July 1997. On April 18, 1999, his last Cup win came in the No. 43 Pontiac at Martinsville Speedway, where he gave team owner Richard Petty a lift into victory lane.
He also made 12 starts in the Indianapolis 500 with a best of fifth in 1991. His lone CART victory came in the 1991 season opener at the Surfers Paradise circuit in Australia.
Andretti also was an accomplished USAC sprint car driver, winning many races on dirt before moving into the major leagues of racing.
Jarrett Andretti had followed in his father’s footsteps, racing in sprint cars and in last year’s Indy Lights event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Andretti Autosport. In a news conference last April, Jarrett said his father still was attending his races while undergoing chemotherapy.
“He came sprint car racing with me last weekend,” Jarrett said. “Goes to the car washes, up until 3 in the morning. He’s obviously going through chemo again, treatments and stuff. I’ve never seen it let him affect him. It’s really an inspiration.”
John Andretti initially was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer after a colonoscopy in January 2017. After undergoing surgery to remove 12 to 14 inches of his colon, he thanked family and fans for their “overwhelming” support while encouraging those over 50 to be screened.
NASCAR and IndyCar honored Andretti in their prestigious Memorial Day weekend races in 2017. Every car in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 ran “#CheckIt4Andretti” decals.
Andretti was shocked to find he had a massive tumor in his colon after undergoing a colonoscopy at 53 because his wife had been tested. He had showed no signs or symptoms before the diagnosis.
“They call colon cancer the ‘silent killer,’” Andretti said in an interview with Bruce Martin for SPEED SPORT Magazine. “They do that because you can have it and not ever know it. The only way to find out if you have it is a colonoscopy.”