Some children are precocious at ballet or karate or with the violin. Marco Andretti's gift is more chilling in its beauty. Here he comes—"he flies; he just flies," says his mother—across his backyard, 140 acres of high ground with an idyllic view of the steepled village of Nazareth. His little legs barely span the scat of the adult-sized four-wheel all-terrain vehicle. A tiny hand with a master's touch on the throttle makes the engine cry out.
Marco is five years old. His stature makes him seem younger, his brow older. It is the hewn brow of his grandfather, his Nonno Mario.
Marco's father, Michael, is heir apparent to Mario's world renown. At age 29, Michael is the defending Indy Car champion, with eight victories in 1991 and 22 in his career. Such success, and yet the Andretti blood is rising, ready for the next tidal stage.
Last year Michael conducted tests for McLaren, one of the top teams in Formula One. He will drive Indy Cars for at least one more year, 1992, for the team owned by Carl Haas and Paul Newman. But it is very likely that next year Michael will try to become the first son of a world driving champion to win that title, probably earning for himself one of the most lucrative contracts in the sport.
Rising behind Michael in the Indy Car ranks are his brother, Jeff, 28, the 1991 Rookie of the Year at the Indianapolis 500, and cousin John, 29, who won the first Indy Car race of the 1991 season, at Surfer's Paradise, Australia. Every time an Indy Car field rolled off the grid last season, four Andrettis were in it. When all four qualified for last year's Indy 500, they made history. No other family—not the Unsers, the Vukoviches or the Bettenhausens—had placed four members in one Indy 500 field. When this year's Indy qualifying begins on May 9, Mario, Michael and John are virtual locks to make the field. Jeff, who lost his ride with Bay-side Indy Car after last season, will try to qualify in one of Foyt's cars.
In a motor racing world overflowing with family dynasties—Pettys, Allisons, Brabhams and Fangios—the Andrettis are the most successful. Aldo, Mario's twin brother and John's father, would undoubtedly have been the fifth Andretti on the starting grid had not two severe injuries suffered in crashes, in 1959 and 1969, blunted his racing career. Aldo's youngest son, Adam, 13, gazes at big brother John's Indy Car and says, "Yeah, I want to do this."
"I never thought it would come to this," says Mario. "This wasn't planned. These kids didn't grow up with me mapping their careers. I think it was just a matter of their being exposed to it."
That, and the toys. Mario and Aldo didn't have the toys. Some fathers, having been deprived of expensive playthings while growing up, give their children electric train sets. The Andretti Santa Claus bore go-karts, motorcycles, snowmobiles, jet-skis, high-powered boats. "I thought, Now, when I was a kid, wouldn't I have gone googly over that?" says Mario. "Of that, I'm guilty."
"Dad never pushed us one way or the other," says Michael. "We had a place in the Pocono Mountains, and we'd spend our weekends up there all summer. That's where I learned to ride the motorcycles and the jet-skis and the snowmobiles—all that stuff."
In most kids, eye-hand coordination is honed for hitting baseballs or shooting baskets. The Andretti kids developed co-ordination for steering, clutching, shifting and braking. Some kids steel themselves to be fearless hitters in football; the Andretti kids learned to be calm at high speed.