When 1969 arrived, Mario Andretti had already established himself as a driver to beat. However, bad luck followed him at the Speedway year after year. He was always among the fastest drivers during practice and qualified on the pole twice, but on race day, mechanical failures would put him out early.
Andy Granatelli also did not fair well at the Speedway, despite earlier success with Jim Rathmann and Freddie Agabashian. Always on the cutting edge of technology, he revived the Novi in the early 1960’s and developed the turbine-powered cars which ran in 1967 and 1968. While leading in 1967, bad luck struck when his turbine-powered car driven by 1963 winner Parnelli Jones broke down with just three laps to the checkered flag. Andy teamed up with famed Lotus designer Colin Chapman for 1968 and the result was the wedge shaped Lotus 56 that incorporated Andy’s turbine. Three turbines made the race with Joe Leonard grabbing the pole with a record speed of 171.559. Again, Andy was denied victory when Leonard’s car flamed out with nine laps to go while leading.
In 1969, the Italians hoped to cancel out each others bad luck by teaming up for the 500 mile race. Mario was turning in the fastest speeds of the month in the new Lotus 64 when disaster struck. A rear wheel hub broke while Mario was on a practice run sending the car in to the wall. Mario escaped with minor burns, but the car was destroyed as were the hopes of a pole position. With only two days before qualifying, the team scrambled and got the back up Brawner-Hawk III ready for qualifying and Mario got the old car in the middle of the front row in between A.J. Foyt on the pole and Bobby Unser on the outside. Despite the good qualifying effort, many had doubts as to the cars reliability and it’s chances of winning the race. Though there were strong challenges from Foyt and Lloyd Ruby, Mario and Andy were not to be denied as they went on to win the 1969 500. Mario even received a kiss from Andy in victory lane, truly making the 1969 win 500 “Italian Style”.
Color – Approx. 64 minutes + cars that missed the race