OSWEGO, NY – Legendary racecar driver Mario Andretti was in the Port City today (Aug. 21) to snip the ribbon helping A&P Automotive celebrate its 25th anniversary.
Pat and Chris Abold and Mike Silliman of A&P Automotive joined Andretti in the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Armed with a huge scissors, Andretti faced a cluster of photographers and attempted to slice the ribbon.
The ribbon refused to yield; Andretti refused to acquiesce to a strip of decoration and snipped and sniped.
“See how competitive he is!” Pat Abold joked to the crowd.
And then, just as he has at racetracks around the world, Mario Andretti won.
The ribbon fell away in two parts and A&P Automotive officially embarked on its next 25 years.
Andretti then greeted fans and signed autographs for scores of racing enthusiasts at the East Bridge Street store. The line snaked from the store, down the parking lot and around the East Ninth Street sidewalk.
“He has a great record. We welcomed him here in 1964 or ’65, I believe, and we’re glad he decided to come back,” said Mayor Randy Bateman.
The mayor added that it was nice to meet him in person after watching him race so many times on television.
Andretti, who won two races more than 40 years ago at Oswego Speedway, said one thing he remembers about his first time in the Port City was how warm and friendly the people were. That, he added today, hasn’t changed.
“When I see all the memorabilia here, it brings back a lot of fond memories of this area. It is rich in racing, with great family support. Everybody I’ve met so far is a racer here,” Andretti said with a laugh.
His memories of competing at Oswego Speedway? “Nothing but good,” Andretti replied quickly. “I only raced here twice, and I won both times. It can’t get any better than that. Again, very, very fond memories.”
Would he like to come back and take a few laps at the Oswego Home of the Supermodifieds? “I think I let the young ones do that now,” he smiled. “I never say no, but it’s one of those things. Be careful what you wish for.”
He has never driven a supermodified “but it looks like a pretty fun machine,” he said pointing to Jeff Abold’s (son of Pat and Chris) Stingray Racing Supermodified #05 parked outside the store.
Firestone has a very loyal dealership here at A&P with Pat and Chris, Andretti said.
“It’s wonderful that they are celebrating their 25th anniversary in business here in Oswego,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to coming here; we’ve met them before. And now they want to make a little nose about their celebration. I think that they certainly deserve that. We’re having a great time here. Everyone is so excited.”
A&P Automotive has been in business for 25 years; most of those years, they have been associated with Firestone.
“They have a great team. Everybody’s proud of one another,” Andretti said of the A&P staff. “Everybody works very hard, very diligently. That’s what it’s all about. That type of work ethic works everywhere from the racetrack to business. It’s first class.”
Andretti took a few minutes to reflect on his amazing career with the media prior to signing autographs for his fans.
“I think I’ve been so fortunate to win so many major events, even a world championship. I’ve won more races than I deserve quite honestly. So, my career, where I have been most fortunate is about having a career free of major injury,” Andretti said.
Over a span of 36 years, he only missed two races.
He doesn’t take anything for granted, he added.
“I’m very appreciative of the fact that I’ve been spared and been able to have that full career where I retired of my own accord, I wasn’t forced into retirement,” he said. “I was one of the lucky ones.”
In the days he raced, the sport wasn’t as safe as it is today, he pointed out.
Currently, he has no real direct involvement in racing, “except, obviously, being a big supporter of my son’s team (one of the drivers is his grandson, Marco).”
It’s tough being on the sidelines watching, the self-confessed “nervous Nellie” said.
“I’m on the sidelines, you know, just biting my fingernails to the bone. There is a lot of emotion, a lot of excitement that is involved in the sport. You experience it all.”
“They put on a beautiful event here,” said local racing enthusiast and Fourth Ward councilor Shawn Walker. “It was great to get to meet Mario Andretti and get his autograph.”
“It’s been exciting all summer leading up to this,” Pat Abold admitted.