INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Central Indiana and the entire world of motorsports is remembering an icon.
IndyCar and NASCAR driver John Andretti passed away Thursday at age 56 after a hard-fought battle with colon cancer.
Andretti was a versatile driver. He’s raced on dirt tracks, road courses, and even speedways like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He started the Indy 500 12 times and the Brickyard 400 11 times.
"He was always one of the favorites," said IMS Preisdent Doug Boles. "The Andretti name means so much, but John always meant so much because he was local and people loved him because he gave back to this community."
The son of Aldo Andretti and nephew of Mario Andretti, racing was always in John's blood. His career began in 1983, and it included stints in drag racing, NASCAR, and IndyCar.
But arguably his most important race came on the go-kart track, with the "Race for Riley" fundraiser he started in 1997 with his good friend Dave "The King" Wilson.
"He was a loyal, brilliant friend," Wilson said. "Not only to the people he knew, but to anyone he would meet."
A competitor at heart, Andretti pushed the fundraising limits. He's helped raise $4.5 Million for Riley Children despite his own cancer diagnosis in 2017.
“I remember his wife saying ‘I cant keep him away! Race for Riley is his thing, and I can't keep him away’,” said Alane Helmer with the Riley Children's Foundation.
Andretti impacted Riley kids for years, and he even left an imprint on the employees who helped make it happen.
“He’s… He's in it for the kids, and that rubs off," said Jason Mueller with Riley Children's Foundation. "That rubbed off on me, that rubbed off on everyone he met at the hospital, the kids, the families he met.”
Always the competitor, Andretti courageously fought for three years with the goal of beating cancer. Unfortunately, after rounds of chemo, the cancer took his life.
But as sports anchor Stuart Scott once said, dying doesn't mean you lose to cancer, you beat cancer by how you live. And with a life as selfless as his, it’s safe to say John Andretti kicked cancer's butt.
"We've lost a gem in John Andretti," Mueller said. "He's a special man, and he’s taught a lot of us some very important life lessons, and the amount of heart he was able to pour out for kids and for others is very special. We’re gonna miss him.”
The Race for Riley will continue on an annual basis, keeping John's selfless legacy alive.