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John Andretti Keeps Strong Connection to Indy as Son Jarett Continues Family Legacy
There’s no place John Andretti would rather be this weekend than Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where his son Jarett will drive Friday in the Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires for the first time.

John can’t be, but it’s as if his presence is still evident.

Jarett, 26, will become the seventh Andretti to race at IMS when he debuts in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race. John, who has been battling colon cancer for two years, had to stay home in North Carolina.

As much as the son wants to make his 56-year-old father proud, John is confident Jarett will stay focused and race for himself as well as his Andretti Autosport team. Jarett will start fourth after turning a two-lap average qualifying speed of 192.822 mph in the No. 18 Window World Dallara.

“Hopefully this is a stepping stone to that next level,” John said. “Maybe someday we’ll get to see him drive again for Andretti Autosport a couple days later.”

It’s an obvious reference to the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, which is always scheduled for the fourth Sunday in May. John made 12 “500” starts from 1988 to 2011 with a best finish of fifth in 1991 for Hall/VDS Racing.

“You do it for yourself, you do it for self-satisfaction, you do it because you want to,” Jarett said of racing. “And the fact that it's something that (John is) wanting to see is a bonus. I think the situation that he's going through, he's going to gain even more appreciation for it, maybe. I know I do.”

The famous racing family has continued to add to its legacy with cousin Michael winning five Indy 500s as a team owner. Michael has five more cars in Sunday’s 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, including one driven by his son, Marco, who will start 10th.

Jarett’s great uncle Mario has been honored all month for the 50th anniversary of his 1969 “500” win. The other Andrettis to run at IMS were uncle Adam and cousin Jeff.

“There's something about this place,” Jarett said. “There's an allure here that you can't replicate for the Indianapolis 500 and for the Speedway in general. Obviously being born in Indianapolis, it has an even more special meaning and seeing your dad compete here among all your other family members. It's also a testament to Michael. He's still involved in the sport as an owner; Marco is driving. … It's a real family effort to stay involved.”

Jarett grew up in North Carolina but was born in Indianapolis. John was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, but grew up in Indianapolis. The son has come to understand since his father’s 2017 cancer diagnosis how John’s popularity was quite extensive in Indy car and NASCAR. John inspired the #checkit4andretti movement to encourage people to schedule a colonoscopy. Each “500” car two years ago had a #checkit4andretti sticker.

While Jarett was progressing through various levels of racing, John was always there until chemotherapy treatments curtailed that involvement.

“He and I did everything together,” John said. “I’ve been the only person he could always count on if he needed some guy to drive the truck or work on the race car or do something. He knew I would be there. Now I’ve left him and not been able to support him like I could, not because I don’t want to but because of the circumstances.

“He’s just jumped right in and made it all work. It’s been a lot on him. I challenge anybody who says they really want it and all of those things. Jarett doesn’t say that. Jarett just goes out and does it. He works from morning to night every day. I challenge anybody to think of somebody who works harder. I know how hard he works, and he works me into the ground. And I don’t mind working.”

Jarett has been driving a McLaren sports car for Andretti Autosport in the GT4 America Series. He’s raced in Sprints, Supermodified, the Rolex Sports Car Series, Silver Crown and Midgets. He competed in 24 USAC National Sprint Car races last year and made 10 sports car starts in the World Challenge.

He’s won championships in go-karts, the USAC Eastern Ignite Pavement Midget Series, the 410 Sprint Car division at Lawrenceburg Speedway and is also an Indiana Sprint Car Series champion. He was named USAC National Sprint Car Rookie of the Year in 2014 and was a Rookie of the Year in the supermodified class at Oswego Speedway.

“He’s never raced because I wanted him to race,” John said. “I’ve told him if he stopped, it would just make it easier on everybody.

“We know the stress and everything that goes along with it. Most people think it’s the glory days, and everybody just fills their bank account. It’s anything but that. There’s a lot of work that goes behind it. Jarett certainly commits to that."

Father and son texted each other Wednesday night while watching the same Sprint car race at Terre Haute, Indiana, on TV. They were headed to that race last year when John received word that his cancer had returned and spread further. The news came as quite a shock, just three months removed from a clear CAT scan.

“I got to Terre Haute, and I was struggling,” John said. “Jarett was struggling. We never left a racetrack in our lives, but we left that day instead of running because our minds weren’t there. Since then, we’ve been able to regroup and put our arms around what the circumstances are and just keep fighting.

“Everybody wants to be on this earth as long as they can. Some of us have been given a timetable, and we’re just trying to push that as far as we can get it down.”

John has watched Jarett’s in-car video from Freedom 100 practice. They started Thursday morning with another round of text exchanges. As John was talking about Jarett during a phone interview, his son walked by and said hello.

“Hey, you should be concentrating on your qualifying,” John said in a teasing tone.

Jarett continues to keep his emotions in check – about his father as well as racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It's always a little bit different feeling when you're rolling into here as a driver as opposed to your dad driving or as a fan or doing a press conference,” Jarett said. “It’s a little bit more special. It’s really hard to put into words what it means. Just taking a glance at the Pagoda my second or third time around is something I won't forget.”
 
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