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He could certainly be considered the Michael Jordan of car racing. Mario Andretti is the lone person to be named United States Driver of the Year in three different decades. His longevity and his penchant for winning with 111 career victories put him in rare company when it comes to auto racing. There’s no question Andretti is one of the best, if not the best, in his business. Can Andretti be compared to other athletes? Are race car drivers considered athletes? Andretti, himself, chimed in on the topic.

Andretti’s racing career

There probably isn’t a better resume when it comes to auto racing than Mario Andretti’s. During his long career which began in the early 1960s, Andretti took part in 879 races and won 111 of them. Andretti is the only driver to win the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 and the Formula One World Championship. His racing career spanned five decades.

Of his 111 victories, Andretti has racked up 52 Indy Car victories (USAC and CART). He also has collected 12 Formula One victories and had added nine Sprint car wins. Andretti also boasts nine Midget victories. In 1999, The Associated Press named Andretti the Driver of the Century. RACER magazine also named Andretti Driver of the Century.

According to, he is the oldest race winner in Indy Car at the age of 53 when he won at Phoenix in 1993. That’s just one of the many records Andretti holds. Among others are all-time leader in wire-to-wire Indy Car victories (14) and all-time leader in Indy Car pole positions won (67).

Are race car drivers considered athletes?

One topic that has regularly come up in the world of sports is the question of race care drivers being athletes. Should race car drivers be considered athletes? In 2013, former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb caused a stir when he said that race car drivers are definitely not athletes.

McNabb, according to, was asked to rank a few athletes, including golfer Tiger Woods, basketball player Kobe Bryant, and auto racer Jimmie Johnson. McNabb said he didn’t think Johnson was an athlete. He made it perfectly clear.

“”Do I think he is an athlete? Absolutely not,” McNabb said. “He sits in a car and he drives. That doesn’t make you athletic … What athletically is he doing?” McNabb’s comments drew the ire of several NASCAR drivers, including Jeff Gordon, who tweeted, “Never met an “athlete” who actually drove a racecar that doubted it. Care to take a ride Donovan?”

Andretti weighs in on athlete debate


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If anyone knows a thing or two about what it takes to drive a race car, it’s Mario Andretti. On Thursday, Andretti was posed the question as to whether or not race car drivers are athletes. He responded by asking what our definition of athletes was. We took the standard definition of a person who is proficient in sports and other forms of physical exercise.

“I think we more than qualify as athletes,” Andretti told “There’s a lot of training that’s involved. When you train, you don’t train to carry the car on your shoulders, but you train for long-range stamina. If you’re suffering physically, you’ll give up performance. You don’t want to have to worry about that.

“The physical side of racing has to be personal,” Andretti continued. “Each individual is different. Only you know if you left something out there. It’s a matter of pride.” Andretti recalled a time when he was racing and lost a lot of weight during a race due to heat and tension. “I lost seven pounds and I’m not a guy who’s 300 pounds,” he said. “For three days, I just stayed at the hotel. My mother came in, looked at me, and just started crying.”