"Probably none of the other Formula One world champions has ever seen a dirt track, let alone raced on one," he says. And yet his greatest point of pride, in the decades-old debate over whether he or Foyt stands as America's best all-around driver, is that Mario has driven 128 Formula One races to none for Foyt.
If Mario's rise through American racing was haunted by dreams of Formula One, his rise through Formula One was haunted by thoughts of Aldo. In '69, the year Mario won the Indy 500 and then seriously entered Formula One, Aldo crashed terribly again. In a sprint car at Des Moines, Aldo smashed into a fence, suffering 14 fractures in his facial bones—"just a pain-in-the-neck of an injury," says Aldo, though his smile is still distorted from the injury. It was much more than a pain. It was the end of racing for Aldo.
"It finally came to him that the sport was just not going to be kind to him," says Mario. "He said to me, 'I'm tired of watering against the wind. I just keep getting all wet.' "
Mario would fulfill the dreams of both of them by becoming world driving champion. He would walk into those little shops in those obscure sections of Madrid and S�o Paulo and Tokyo and find his face recognized, and in his mind he would see the face that until that crash in Des Moines had looked almost exactly like his. He would see the childhood face that was precisely as smug as his was when he and Aldo strode into the candy shops of Montona and then Lucca, pretending they were renowned Formula One drivers.
"We used to have our dreams together," Mario says. "All our early planning was together. We were really twins. Really close. And I felt he'd been slighted. But at the same time I knew that Aldo is a very strong character.... He wasn't going to dwell on that, because I'm sure he knew that life could be unbearable otherwise. I think he was happy for me."
Aldo now owns his own manufacturing firm, Aldo Andretti Machine and Engineering Co. in Indianapolis—with the emphasis on Aldo.
"Everything else I've ever been involved in," Aldo says, "people have said, 'Well, does Mario own this?' or 'You doing this for Mario?' Well, I'm on my own. I couldn't be prouder of his achievements. I'm his number one fan. But you don't want to take a backseat in life. To me he's the best there is—but he's no better than I am just because I'm not racing."
Aldo did his share of nurturing the dynasty. While Mario raced and made the name famous, Aldo briefly served as chief mechanic for the go-kart racing team of his son John and Michael—who were not only cousins, but also best friends. And he makes it to nearly all of his son's Indy Car practices and races. "I think he's reliving his life through John," says Mario. "And I think he's quite satisfied with that."
Michael was the natural with the noisy toys Mario provided. The Benvegn� blood surged in him from the start.
"Little as Michael was, not even being able to reach pedals, he'd get on something—a high-powered boat, a motorcycle, anything—and just go for it," says Mario. "When he first started driving go-karts, bang! He was a winner right off. Everything came so natural. Then he went to several driving schools, first in Belgium and a couple here. His gauge was always how fast he was against the other students. And he was always fastest."