MYRTLE BEACH — When Bob Lutz purchased Myrtle Beach Speedway, he did so with the belief that the old tracks future could live up to its past as a proving ground for some of racings marquee names. And to help build attention and support for that cause, well, he called upon one of the biggest names the sport has ever had.
Legendary driver Mario Andretti arrived via helicopter Saturday night to make an appearance at the speedway before the evenings scheduled event, mingle with the fans who werent kept away by the rain showers and, of course, talk a little racing.
We need these venues, Andretti said after getting his first look at the place. And the unfortunate thing [is] theyre disappearing because of whether its the value of land or whatever. But the sport needs venues like this where some of the aspiring young kids can just start, because you cant start at the top. This is great for your formative years. These are the tracks that have created the champions we have seen over the years the champions of today and champions of yesterday.
Andretti, of course, is one of racings all-time great champions. A four-time IndyCar national champion, he ranks second all-time with 52 IndyCar victories and won more than 100 races overall between various series including the 1967 Daytona 500 and the 1969 Indianapolis 500.
He and Lutz have been involved in business ventures since 2004 and have known each other since the mid 1990s, Lutz said.
Typically Mario will go to much bigger events than what we have here, but Mario has been very supportive in anything that Ive done, Lutz said. And when I told Mario I purchased the speedway here and that I would like for him to come in for tonight [Saturday] ... he wanted to see the facility and help in any way he could.
Andretti, who drove the pace car before the evenings rain-delayed race, said he got a brief history lesson on the track as he arrived, learning about some of the names like the Earnhardts and Pettys that have competed at Myrtle Beach Speedway since it was originally built in 1958.
From what I hear, just all the big names have been here at one time or another, he said. The fact that its been here since the late 50s I wouldnt have believed because it looks brand new.
Now 72, Andretti keeps a busy schedule with commitments to the companies hes associated with as well as his own business interests and watching his son and grandson carry on the family name. Michael Andretti is an IndyCar team owner now and his son Marco drives for that Andretti Autosport team. The elder Andretti says he still goes to about half of the IndyCar races on the schedule to keep tabs on the family business.
I follow all of motor racing as closely as I can, he said. Obviously, its been my life and it continues to be.
Lightning flashed through the sky and an untimely downpour drenched the area in the hour leading up to Andrettis scheduled appearance Saturday night, but Lutz decided to stick with the plan and bring him in anyway for however many fans made it out to the track.
Its great for the speedway, Lutz said. Its great for the fans and the community to have someone like Mario come in because getting him to come to a short track isnt typical for someone like Mario, so its an honor for me to have him here and one more big name thats been out here to Myrtle Beach Speedway.
As for Lutz, he said the tracks regular events the Wednesday night thrill shows and Saturday races are doing well, and he has visions to bring more events to town. He said he has had conversations with the UARA, PASS, NASCAR Camping World Truck and K&N series.
Were in discussions right now with several series about bringing some of their marquee events here to the speedway, he said. My short-term goal is to continue bringing in big events to the speedway and long-term goal is to continue making improvements to the facility, building what we have here, getting this track back on the map again and back to the days of 10, 15 years ago. As successful as it was, I think we can get it back to that level again in the next three to five years.
Said Andretti: Without venues like this, where would you start? Its just like going to school. You cant start at the university.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.