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Andretti Autosport a budding auto racing empire

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 24, 2014 at 11:53 am •  Published: May 24, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — In the far corner of Gasoline Alley, where the signs that say "Andretti Autosport" hang from the buildings, there is a flurry of activity that can best be described as organized chaos.

Engineers are poring over computer screens. Mechanics are peering into engine bays. Fans are milling about, snapping surreptitious pictures of their favorite drivers. And walking through the garage is what amounts to the sun, the man around whom everything seems to revolve.

Many have tried to segue from driver to car owner. A few have even thrived. Michael Andretti has done something else entirely: He has built an auto racing empire.

His hands touch everything from road racing to RallyCross to the innovative Formula E, an electric-car series that begins later this year. He's responsible for developing many of the young drivers poised to become the newest generation of stars. He helps secures sponsorships, chips in on marketing, employs hundreds of people and champions open-wheel racing.

"He does it for love of the sport," said JF Thormann, Andretti Autosport's chief operating officer and a close friend for more than three decades. "Trust me, he doesn't make money on most of those things. He continues to push for opportunities. But he'll only do it if it's right."

That's why Andretti's colors have yet to fly in NASCAR, even though it seems to be a yearly conversation. Or why the team only fields cars for the Indy 500 if he thinks they can win. And why it was little surprise to see his new RallyCross team capture the first race of the season.

"That's the thing with Andretti Autosport. I think we have like, four or five programs under one roof," said Ryan Hunter-Reay, who will pilot one of the team's five entries in Sunday's Indy 500. "You never know what's coming next."

The team was already established when Andretti joined in 2001, but he took on a bigger role upon purchasing a majority interest and hanging up his fire suit. Never content to be simply a name or face, he poured himself into the organization with the same kind of single-minded drive that carried him to such a successful career behind the wheel.

The team was renamed Andretti Autosport in 2009, and over the last five years it has taken off, with its fleet of drivers seemingly always in the hunt.

Yet for all the success in all those various series, Andretti's heart still belongs at Indy, and that vexing oval that has caused so much heartache for so many generations of his family.

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