Before the slavic partisans came, fighting the Germans and the troops of Il Duce, Montona was a village of carts and donkeys and horses. "Even after the war start, we have only one—what you call?—taxi," says Nonna Rina in English broken but lovely. The cobblestones were scrubbed and polished by hand, the town traffic-free, so there was no clear inspiration for the vocal sounds her twin sons began to make in the summer of 1942.
"When they were two, they begin to run," Nonna Rina says. "They were going into the cabinet in the kitchen and taking the lids from the pots and running around the table [she gestures as if with a steering wheel], saying, 'Roooom, roooom.' And when they are going to sleep, they are pretending they are little cars. Into the pillowcase they are saying, 'Roooom, roooom,' until I was yelling at them: 'Va a dormire!"
" 'Go to sleep!' I said. Still, roooom, roooom. Si."
Where did they get such notions?
Nonna Rina, who is now 79, throws up her hands. "I think they have on their blood."
One of her twins, Mario Andretti—the most famous racing driver in the world and, at 52, head of the most famous and prolific racing family ever—stares out across his backyard pool at dusk in Nazareth, Pa. His gaze is across the Atlantic, and across the years. "It seems so remote from today," he says. "Like a life that didn't happen, almost."
On a table beside him is a book about his beloved Istrian Peninsula. Once a gleaming finger of northeastern Italy jutting into the Adriatic, once a sanctuary of Roman architecture unspoiled other than by millennia of gentle rain, it is now just another province of the devastated country that was Yugoslavia.
Nonna Rina—"Grandma Rina" to the new generation of Andretti drivers, Mario's two sons and his nephew—refers to the region as "this Istria," as if she has adapted Shakespeare's exaltation over England: This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this Istria. And on this Istria basked Montona, about 25 miles from Trieste. "The town was so beautiful," says Mario. "In the '40s, when we still lived there, everything was so spick-and-span. All the hardware on the doorways was polished. The cobblestones were all polished. It's not like that now."
It is not even Montona now. For more than 40 years it has been called Motovun, Croatia. And in that time the very name Andretti has become virtually synonymous with motor racing. A poll taken in 1989 revealed the name Andretti to be as well known in the U.S. as Foyt and Petty together. And of all the drivers in the world, only Mario Andretti, from experience, knows this: One cannot fathom fame by merely winning the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, which he has done. One must also win the world driving championship of Formula One, and then, he says, "walk into some drugstore in some obscure section of Paris or Madrid or S�o Paulo...."
Mario gazes into the gathering dusk of the day, across the pool and across the Atlantic. "What a chain of events," he says. "What a chain of events."