Fifty years ago, Mario Andretti won his first Indianapolis 500. Unfathomably it proved to be his only trip to the IMS Victory Lane – and even that was a close-run thing.
Autosport magazine’s Indy 500 preview featured Eamon ‘Chalkie’ Fullalove, Mario’s mechanic and the (until now) untold story of the modification to make the best of a bad situation. Andretti, the 1978 F1 World Champion, was delighted that his ‘comrade’ was getting the credit he finally deserves. Magazine space being at a premium these days, and with so much recent topical news means that Autosport’s loss is Sport500’s gain. Here’s Mario’s own version.
It’s awesome that Autosport has given the attention to Chalkie. A career like his has touched the many teams he was with in a very positive way. I know the camaraderie that he optimises among mechanics. Everybody loves him. Whenever I think of Chalkie, he brings a smile to my face. He’s the man I definitely want to have a beer with! He has a proper surname, Fullalove, that sums him up.
Chalkie is clearly one of my very favourite mechanics that worked on a team I was on. Ultimately the biggest thing that you have is an appreciation for his ability as a mechanic to solve any problem. He’s clearly the fabricator extraordinaire. We had that huge issue after qualifying at Indy in ’69 because we had overheating oil. We were going to add an outside radiator after we qualified, but they wouldn’t allow us to do it.
Chalkie solved the situation. He managed to install a radiator out of sight behind the seat! It was a bit inefficient, but it was the only thing you could do. It was hot! I ended up with blisters on my back, but it got the job done and kept us in the game for the 500 miles.
We were worried it wouldn’t last. I took the lead at the start and already about six or seven laps in my oil temperature was in the 270 degrees range and that’s when I backed off, letting Foyt and Roger McCluskey by. I stayed with them, I wasn’t going to let up. I was never worse than third in the race, and I knew that – at will – I could lead, so I figured I should just keep staying the way I was.
We had another issue with the right rear tyre. We couldn’t take it off! If we’d messed about in the pits with that, we’d have fallen behind and never recovered. We did 500 miles on that one set of tyres – and we won it.
I remember the party after and I’m laughing now at the memory… It was huge, as you can imagine! Andy Granatelli-style, everybody kissing. There was a lot of emotion, no question about it.
It made so many people happy. Many deserved this prize at times before, but for one reason or another it didn’t happen. Especially for my chief mechanic, Clint Brawner. Jim McGee was the co-chief, but he was young like me, so he felt he would have many other opportunities. Brawner was at the end of his career and we were finally able to bring it to him. Of course, we know how hard Granatelli worked, and how much the win meant to him. Indy was the only race he cared about. He didn’t care about the championship or anything else. Not like us you know?
That Indy win in 1969 was still one of the most satisfying moments in my career. For me and the team behind it.
Mario Andretti was talking to Andy ‘@Hallbean’ Hallbery & Johanna ‘@writebend’ Husband
To read Autosport’s story “The man behind Mario Andretti’s luckiest day at Indy” with Chalkie, you can purchase the e-issue here: