Michael Andretti Vies On Celebrity Apprentice

Michael, Marco, Mario Andretti - Anne Proffit photo

Michael, Marco, Mario Andretti - Anne Proffit photo

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So Michael Andretti is now going to be part of the Celebrity Apprentice television show driven by Donald Trump, who was initially named as pace car driver for the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500 last May but bowed out--he said due to business reasons--most of us believe he didn't do it because of the outcry over that choice (and the fact his "hair" would have been messed beyond belief).

Michael Andretti has always been a rather soft-spoken, nearly shy kind of guy.

Living in the shadow of his over-achieving and legendary father Mario, Michael drove himself to be successful and, perhaps, overshadow that legend. He once said he drove from fear of failure. I'd have to believe that, having known the guy since he was a kid on the way up.

Andretti now owns Andretti Autosport, which has entries in the IZOD IndyCar Series and the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system: Firestone Indy Lights Championship, Star Mazda Series and USF2000 National Championship. Michael Andretti has been a track promoter through Andretti Green Promotions, the entity that began the Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg and brought his favorite venue, the streets of Toronto back to the Indy car schedule.

When his team joined the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2003, it was known as Andretti Green Racing and had Tony Kanaan, Bryan Herta and Dario Franchitti as its initial drivers.  Andretti drove in the Indy 500 that year and after that, Dan Wheldon took over the fourth seat. Renamed Andretti Autosport two years ago when former partners Kim Green and Kevin Savoree took over the promotional side of the business, the team owns 39 Indy car victories and two Indianapolis 500 wins.  

Drivers fielded over the past few years by Andretti Autosport include Danica Patrick, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti's son Marco Andretti and Mike Conway. Dan Wheldon signed to drive for the team, replacing NASCAR-bound Patrick, the morning of the Las Vegas race where he lost his life. A new driver has not yet been named to drive one of Andretti Autosport's Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone entries in 2012, but 2011 Rookie of the Year James Hinchcliffe is the major name mentioned.

Being on Celebrity Apprentice is a bit different for Andretti, who remains quite a competitor as he manages his stable of teams. He'll be competing with a masculine roster of talk show host Arsenio Hall, singer Clay Aiken, radio host Adam Carolla, "Incredible Hulk" Lou Ferrigno, magician/comedian Penn Jillette, singer Dee Snider, actor George Takei and "American Chopper" star Paul Teutui.

There are women in the Celebrity Apprentice lineup as well: model Cheryl Tiegs, singer Debbie Gibson, actress/singer Tia Carrere, author/reality star Victoria Gotti, comedienne Lisa Lampanelli, former Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza, singer/actress Aubrey O'Day, actress/model Patricia Velasquez and "Real Housewives of New Jersey" star Teresa Giudice.

Does Andretti have the chops to match these loud and verbose opponents? "I grew up with competition; it's all about winning," he said. "If you don't win you're the first loser; that's the way I feel about it.  I'm joining Celebrity Apprentice because it's a competitive environment and that's what I love, as well as for the business side of it and because my charity is Racing for Cancer, a great cause," Andretti noted.  

Son Marco was supposed to be on Celebrity Apprentice, but with the deaths of good friend Wheldon and Marco's maternal grandfather shortly after the season, father Michael came in to "help out," as he put it. Andretti believes his competitive nature, his business knowledge as a team owner and his honorable nature will see him through to the end of the season. "I won't cross the line of being dirty and things like that because that's just not the way I am," he said.  

Most of the competition is likely over as we're reading this, because segments are filmed well in advance of air dates. The series premieres on Feb 12 at 9PM ET.

The celebrity contestants compete with the goal of raising money and awareness for their charity of choice. The last person standing is "hired" as the Celebrity Apprentice and has the honor of accepting a $250,000 bonus check to their designated charity, in Andretti's case Racing for Cancer.

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