The 2018 Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix is Saturday, April 7, under the lights at ISM Raceway in Avondale. Attesa wants as many fans as possible to attend because we strongly support IndyCar, America’s oldest championship racing series, as well as the unique, paved mile race track it made famous.
IndyCar raced at the doglegged oval formerly known as Phoenix International Raceway from 1964 through 2005. Its return in 2016 was inauspicious at best and last year wasn’t very good either; the cars had too much downforce, there was only one groove and passing was just about nonexistent.
This year will be different. The new cars have less downforce and there’s talk of rubber-treating the track to artificially create a second groove, just to make sure the show is good. It should be the race we’ve been waiting for, and the weekend will also feature a USAC Silver Crown race, a vintage race plus a special tribute to Mario Andretti.
2018 marks the 25th anniversary of Mario’s final IndyCar win which just happened to be at the Phoenix track. Part of the celebration will be a display of the four cars he drove to victory here: his 1966 and 1967 Brawner Hawks and his 1988 and 1993 Lolas. We’d love to see more. Super Mario drove a historic collection of race cars during Indy racing’s ‘Golden Age’ and beyond, compiling a winning body of work that spanned four decades.
Here’s a brief rundown of how he did at ‘the Desert Jewel,’ paying special attention to his first six years when he drove for renowned Arizona IndyCar Crew Chief Clint Brawner.
Mario’s first race at PIR was in the fall of 1964, driving the Dean Van Lines Watson/Offy. He started third and was classified 18th (DNF/mechanical). In the Spring ’65 race, still driving a front-engine roadster, he started third and finished sixth.
By November Mario was then comfortably behind the wheel of Brawner’s first rear-engine IndyCar, built in a small race shop in Phoenix with the capable assistance of a young Jim McGee. After winning Rookie of the Year in his first Indianapolis 500, he drove the Ford-powered Brawner Hawk MK I to his first USAC National Championship, cemented by a second-place result behind A. J. Foyt in the season finale at PIR.
In March of 1966, Mario started first but spun and crashed after leading the first 46 laps (DNF, 15th), but then won from pole in November to claim his second consecutive USAC Championship at PIR. He didn’t race the following spring but started second and won in November 1967. In April of ’68, Mario gridded second in the Hawk MK II and led before crashing (15th place, DNF); the following November he started on pole but crashed while fighting for position with Foyt on lap six. (24th, DNF).
In the spring race of 1969 Mario qualified the third and final version of the Hawk in fourth but did not finish after a half shaft broke. His fall race result wasn’t much better as he qualified second but crashed before the halfway mark (DNF, 21st). Still, he’d won nine races that season to celebrate his third USAC championship at PIR.
Ah, but it’s what went on between those races that made Mario Andretti a household name. New team owner Andy Granatelli had ordered 4WD Lotus Fords for the 1969 season, but they were late, fast, fragile and ultimately flawed. After they showed up in May for Indy, Mario escaped serious injury in a practice crash due to a hub failure with no immediate solution. The cars were withdrawn, the Brawner Hawk was pressed back into service, and Mario Andretti won ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ in a car built in Phoenix, Arizona, by a Phoenix racing legend. It would be the only time Mario would drink the milk at the Brickyard.
In 1970 he opened the season with the battle-tested Hawk, qualifying on pole but classified 13th (DNF) after an engine failure in the spring race at PIR. Granatelli switched to a McNamara chassis starting with the Indy 500 but by November in Phoenix, Andretti was back in the Hawk. He started 24th and made it to eighth in his final race for STP and Clint Brawner.
Mario’s post-Brawner record at Phoenix:
1971 Spring race, started eighth, finished ninth – STP McNamara/Ford
1971 Fall race, started ninth, finished fourth – STP McNamara/Ford
1972 Spring race, started fourth, finished second – VPJ Parnelli/Offy
1972 Fall race, started second, finished third – VPJ Parnelli/Offy
1973 Fall race, started 17th, finished seventh – VPJ Parnelli/Offy
1974 Spring race, started seventh, finished fifth – VPJ Eagle/Offy
1974 Fall race, started fifth, finished third – VPJ Eagle/Offy
Note 1: Andretti stayed with the Vel’s Parnelli Jones team in 1975, planning to run both F1 and USAC until the team was shuttered due to sponsorship reductions. (He found out about it when Chris Economaki shoved a microphone in his face while he was in his car, on the starting grid at the Long Beach F1 GP, completely clueless he was out of a ride until the reporter asked for a reaction to the breaking news.) Mario caught a ride with Jerry O’Connell’s Sugaripe Prune team for the November race at PIR.
1975 Fall race, started third, finished third – O’Connell Eagle/Offy
1976 Fall race, started third, finished third – Team Penske McLaren/Offy
1977 Fall race, started fourth, finished fifth – Team Penske McLaren/Cosworth
1978 Fall race, started fifth, finished seventh – Team Penske Penske/Cosworth
Note 2: 1976 saw Super Mario switch to Formula 1 full time with Team Lotus while driving for Team Penske on a part time basis in America. In 1978 he became only the second (and last) American to win the FIA World Driving Championship, also becoming the only man to win the Indy 500, the Daytona 500 and an F1 title.
1980 Fall race, started first, finished second – Team Penske Penske/Cosworth
1981 Spring race, started fourth, finished 11th – Patrick Racing Wildcat/Cosworth
1981 Fall race, started fourth, finished fourth – Patrick Racing Wildcat/Cosworth
1982 Spring race, started fifth, finished second – Patrick Racing Wildcat/Cosworth
1982 Fall race, started second, finished third – Patrick Racing Wildcat/Cosworth
Note 3: In 1983, after two years driving for Pat Patrick, Mario began the final chapter of his celebrated racing story. He hooked up with Lola race car importer Carl Haas and actor Paul Newman, forming an Uber team he would end his storied career with. At the famous Phoenix mile his Newman/Haas stats are as follows:
1983 Fall race, started second, finished second – Lola/Cosworth
1984 Spring race, started third, finished 20th (broken CV joint) – Lola/Cosworth
1984 Fall race, started seventh, finished 12th (clinched fourth championship) – Lola/Cosworth
1985 Fall race, started seventh, finished third – Lola/Cosworth
1986 Spring race, started first, finished seventh (ran out of fuel) – Lola/Cosworth
1986 Fall race, started fifth, finished fourth – Lola/Cosworth
1987 Spring race, started first, finished fifth – Lola/Chevrolet
1988 Spring race, started third, finished first – Lola/Chevrolet
1989 Spring race, started fourth, finished eighth – Lola/Chevrolet
1990 Spring race, started sixth, finished fourth – Lola/Chevrolet
1991 Spring race, started third, finished ninth – Lola/Chevrolet
1992 Spring race, started third, finished 17th (transmission) – Lola/Ford
1993 Spring race, started second, finished first – Lola/Ford
1994 Spring race, started fourth, finished 21st (crash) – Lola/Ford
And then, for the first time since the track opened 30 years before, there would be no more Mario Andretti to root for in IndyCar.
One more thing: We’re serious about wanting race fans to visit ISM Raceway for the April 7th IndyCar race. Dan Erickson and Lisa Mitchell, Attesa’s Managing Partner and Executive Vice President, attended the spring NASCAR race there and were wowed by what the track is doing as part of a $178 million-dollar renovation. It remains possibly the best and most unique oval track in America, only getting better, still an integral part of IndyCar’s varied schedule of short oval, superspeedway, road course and street course racing.