The Best Racing News Of The Fall

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This week we got some great news related to IndyCar. It wasn’t about the possibility of rookies getting more tires on a race weekend, nor were there any updates on the TV contract negotiations. No, this news hit much closer to home.

On Monday, John Andretti tweeted out that he is officially finished with chemotherapy. If you’ll recall, we got the news in early May that Andretti had been diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. He admitted that he had been negligent in getting a colonoscopy. He had waited four years past his fiftieth birthday – the recommended time to get your first colonoscopy. He freely admits that had he followed the recommended timeline, his disease would have been caught in the early stages and he would not be in the battle he finds himself in.

Andretti turned his mistake into a positive. He went on a crusade to make everyone aware of how important it is to get checked at the age of fifty. His first cousin, Michael Andretti made sure all of the cars in his stable carried the hashtag #CheckIt4Andretti somewhere within their respective liveries at all races throughout the rest of the season.

For those that don’t know, John Andretti is the son of Aldo Andretti – Mario’s twin brother. While Mario’s children grew up in Nazareth, Pennsylvania; Aldo’s grew up in Indianapolis. While Mario’s offspring (sons Michael and Jeff; grandson Marco) were accomplished IndyCar racers in their own right; John Andretti was a more versatile racer that has driven – and excelled in – sprint cars, Indy cars, NASCAR Cup cars and even Top-Fuel dragsters.

I don’t say this as a cheap shot, but I think all of Mario’s offspring would agree that they were not born with the gift of gab. Michael is much more outgoing as an owner than he ever was as a driver. Jeff was never known for his affable personality and Marco would certainly fall in the same category. That’s not a knock on them…it’s just the way it is.

But John Andretti really comes off as a good guy. Being more outgoing than his cousins does not necessarily make him a great guy – but he is also very genuine. I remember being in the garage area at IMS in the early nineties, when there were always four Andretti’s in the field – Mario, Michael, Jeff and John. John Andretti was always the one out chatting it up with fans, while his cousins were usually huddled back in their respective garages. Again – I’m not trying to knock Mario’s branch of the family, instead I want to illustrate what a great guy John is.

When I first heard the news about John Andretti’s diagnosis, I wasn’t sure what to think. Stage IV is never a good thing to hear when discussing cancer. He sounded upbeat, but we all knew he would be in an uphill battle. We hoped for the best, but who was really sure?

Cancer is a horrible disease and can hit different people in various ways. Very few people can say they have not been touched by cancer – either personally or through a friend or close family member. My father and I attended the 1993 Indianapolis 500 together and had a wonderful time. It was his first return to the race since 1972 and he talked about it all though the summer. He was always very active, always healthy and never sick – although his eating habits were about as bad as mine. But by the next February, he kept saying he just wasn’t feeling good.

That May I took my then four year-old son, Trey, to 1994 Opening Day at IMS. I had not been there since my father and I had gone the year before. We had a blast at our father/son weekend, and he got to meet drivers Raul Boesel and Scott Sharp.

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Three days later, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I missed both weekends of qualifying due to his illness, but he gave me his blessing and in fact urged me go to the race; which of course, I did. He died on December 1, 1994 – barely eighteen months after he and I spent our own father/son weekend at the 1993 Indianapolis 500.

We all have our personal stories on how cancer has affected our lives, either directly or indirectly. Many times, they don’t have happy endings. This past May, you wondered how John Andretti’s battle would turn out. Just about a week ago, I was thinking about Andretti and wondering how he was doing, since I had heard nothing lately. I was trying to tell myself that no news was good news, but I couldn’t help but wonder.

Then suddenly we got this good news on Monday that he was done with chemotherapy, and hopefully for good. This is the best racing news we’ve gotten in a while. John Andretti is not out of the woods yet. He won’t be for some time. I’m assuming that he will have to wait and be checked in a few months to tell how things are going, but for right now – things sound very encouraging.

John Andretti has always been a role model; not only for the way he has conducted himself on and off the track, but also by the way he lives his life. For over twenty years, he has done work for various charities, but his No.1 charity is the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. His Race for Riley karting event that he and local personality Dave “the King” Wilson work so hard to present each year, has raised over $1.4 Million since its inception in 1997. Andretti has utilized his long-time racing sponsors like Kroger, Cheerios and Window World and gotten them involved as annual sponsors of his event.

But Andretti has been involved in many more charities that go far beyond just lending his name and showing up. He works countless hours and is heavily involved in several charitable events in the Indianapolis area. Now he needs our help, but he isn’t asking for money. Just make sure to pass his message to make sure everyone gets checked.

Without sharing TMI (too much information), I had my first colonoscopy at age fifty. They found a polyp which they said was the kind that can become cancerous. Since they found a polyp, I am now on the five-year schedule instead of the usual ten-year plan. At age fifty-five, I had my second one and everything looked fine. But I’ll promise you – after I turn sixty next year, I’ll be getting my third. Had I waited four years like Andretti did, and the polyp had been allowed to develop – who knows if I would even be here right now? So do yourself and your family a favor – #CheckIt4Andretti.

George Phillips

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6 Responses to “The Best Racing News Of The Fall”

  1. Brian McKay Says:

    Thanks for blogging.

  2. I’m getting there. It is good to hear things are looking up for John.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    One of my favorite John Andretti memories is when he joined Marty Roth’s team at Indy in 2008, raced well, and two weeks later qualified 7th at Texas. That was ahead of Wheldon, Kanaan, Marco, and Carpenter. Roth should have stuck with him.

    I hope the #CheckIt4Andretti campaign continues into this season.

  4. I don’t say this as a cheap shot, but I think all of George’s commenters would agree that he has a gift of gab. Congratulations John Andretti on finishing chemo and thank you for all your charitable work. Obviously one does not need gab to be a class person.

  5. I crewed for John a few times when he was driving a midget for Rollie Helming sponsored by Pepsi, he was as you say he is a really good driver , a true gentleman and was always a lot of fun. Hopefully this is a corner turned.

  6. good news for him. colon cancer runs in my family. i’ve had
    4 colonoscopies. the prep drink tastes better than it used to.
    a lady in the waiting room told me her secret. add vodka
    to the prep. the instructions say: drink only clear fluids.

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