Versatile race-car driver John Andretti dies at 56

JOHN Andretti became the first driver to attempt the Memorial Day double. He won on dirt tracks, street courses and superspeedways. He won an endurance race, competed in dragsters and became an iron man in IndyCar and NASCAR. And he used his platform and passion for racing to help others.

On Thursday, after a three-year battle with colon cancer, Andretti died at the age of 56.

Andretti competed in USAC sprint cars on dirt then won the 1989 Rolex 24 in a sports car before moving full-time to IndyCars in 1990. There he started 49 consecutive races over the next three seasons, where his warm personality turned him into a fan favorite.

He moved to stock cars full time in 1994, making at least 29 starts each season through 2003 while driving for the likes of Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress. Andretti also competed in the Xfinity and truck series.

In 1994, Andretti made history by becoming the first driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 before flying to Charlotte, North Carolina, for NASCAR’s 600-mile night race. Andretti finished 10th in Indyand wound up 36th at Charlotte, completing 220 of 400 laps before a bad crankshaft knocked him out.

He made 476 career starts on the Cup and IndyCar circuits, winning three times: The 1991 IndyCar season-opener at Australia, NASCAR’s second race at Daytona an 1997 and at Martinsville in 1999.

But as much as he enjoyed racing, he was equally passionate about his charity work.

He became a key contributor in the Indianapolis community, annually racing go-karts to raise money for Riley Children’s Hospital, showing up at other fundraisers and even occasionally showing up at Pacers games.

Andretti is survived by his wife, Nancy, son Jarett and daughter Olivia. (AP)