This is a book I hoped I would never have to read, let alone write a review. Racer is the autobiography of John Andretti, the “other” Andretti and the only person to race Indy cars, NASCAR stock cars, at the top level of sports car racing in the U.S. and at Le Mans, and in Top Fuel drag racing. And he won at all levels of the sport, and seemingly in every aspect of life.
He put himself through college (business degree) with money earned racing on weekends, was successful using that degree, and along the way raised lots of money for Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis.
And then, on January 28, 2017, his life changed. He was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer, and in the time he had left he not only fought the disease but campaigned for everyone in the racing community and far beyond to have a colonoscopy, and to do so earlier than might be recommended because the disease could be treated if discovered early enough.
Sorry, I had to stop writing for a few moments to wipe tears and to regain my composure. Because John Andretti was more than another athlete to write about back when I was covering sports and especially auto racing. He and his wife, Nancy, had become friends. His death earlier this year took him from us way too soon.
But before he left, John Andretti spent time with author Jade Gurss to share that life and its lessons with us in book form.
To be truthful, I hadn’t responded when Octane Press offered a review copy of the book. I really didn’t want to read it. But publisher Lee Klancher and publicist Jo Snyder also are friends and they sent me a copy anyway.
I opened the book reluctantly, and immediately alternated between tears and laughter. But there was a lot more laughter than tears. It was as if John was sitting there in my living room, telling his stories and sharing life and lessons.
This definitely is John’s story, and my compliments and thanks to Gurss for letting John tell his story rather than inserting his own voice into the book.
John’s stories will take you to race tracks and race shops and you’ll be spellbound if that’s your interest. But if it is not, you’ll still want to read about something even more important — family. As you might expect, John talks of his father and his uncle, the brothers Andretti, twins Aldo and Mario, and of his own cousin, Michael, and of their racing careers. But he also tells about other families, especially the Pettys of stock car racing fame and his time racing for Richard and with Kyle.
And though famous, like all families, the Andrettis and Pettys experience crisis and sorrow. But they don’t dwell on it, and neither does John.
“If you ask me how I’m doing… I’m doing good,” was John’s response to the pain and the chemo and all of if. He was talking about dealing with all of it, but throughout his life, he was doing good in another way, sharing and caring.
As he nears the end of the book, and his life, John wonders how he’ll be remembered, or if he’ll be forgotten. He hopes he’ll be remembered, and for more than his driving. And now, even in death, he’s still giving: A portion of every book sold goes to Riley hospital.
Not for John’s sake, but for your own and your family’s and your friends, schedule that colonoscopy.
By John Andretti as told to Jade Gurss
Octane Press, 2020
Hardcover, 240 pages