Renowned racing car driver John Andretti lost his battle to colon cancer in 2020, but his legacy lives on as his family promotes and provides early screenings through the #CheckIt4Andretti foundation.
Driver John Andretti was known for his speed, versatility and ambition when it came to racing in NASCAR and IndyCar, racking up numerous career highlights over the years and carving out a spot for himself as one of the most popular and notable racers of his time. Now, a year after he lost his battle with colon cancer in 2020, his family is continuing that legacy for the cancer community.
In 2017, after being diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer at 53, Andretti began the #CheckIt4Andretti campaign. No stranger to charitable efforts, Andretti had been raising money for Indianapolis’ Riley Hospital for Children for two decades through go-kart races organized by his nonprofit Race for Riley. While he was initially hesitant to go public with his cancer diagnosis, Andretti recognized the importance of raising awareness of the disease.
The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 4.3 percent for men and 4 percent for women, making it the third most common cancer for both in the United States. While traditional guidelines don’t recommend screening for the cancer until age 50, the American Cancer Society found that 18,000 people under 50 were diagnosed with the disease in 2020. With rates rising in younger people more and more each year, early screening based on certain risk factors can make a big difference.
“He created #CheckIt4Andretti as an awareness campaign to urge others to get their colonoscopies,” says son Jarett Andretti, also a driver and president of Andretti Motorsports. “[He] was diagnosed … after a routine colonoscopy. He had no visible symptoms and probably wouldn’t have gone if not for my mom urging him.”
Andretti says that with everything his father did in life, he was “all in,” including when it came to his battle with cancer. “He was intense and worked incredibly hard,” says Andretti. “Dad took this same intensity to his cancer battle and I truly believe it bought him extra months, if not extra years.”
Anything his father could race, from NASCAR to Sprint Cars to NHRA Drag Racing, he would try. That diversity and ability to adapt easily is what aided him well in his cancer fight, Andretti believes.
“He was able to keep things in perspective, accept new information and form a plan quickly based on the best advice from experts he had surrounding him,” Andretti recalls. “One of my favorite quotes from him was ‘You better get comfortable being uncomfortable’ and I think that mentality aided in his versatility as a driver and his fight against cancer.”
His father never complained, found humor even in the direst of situations and refused to feel sorry for himself. He met many people both in person and online who were also facing cancer, and, by going public with his own battle, he was able to encourage them to keep fighting. Through #CheckIt4Andretti’s initial campaign, many people scheduled colonoscopies in his honor, several of whom ended up having pre-cancerous polyps removed—one of them being his very own sister and Jarett’s aunt.
“He fought his disease as hard as he raced,” says Andretti.
After his father passed in January last year, the family decided to take the campaign one step further. To continue spreading awareness of colorectal cancer, #CheckIt4Andretti has now become a registered foundation that provides colonoscopies for those without insurance coverage or those whose insurance will not cover the procedure due to age or circumstance.
“If we can prevent one family from experiencing the pain and loss of someone they love with a simple exam, then this campaign is worth the effort we’ve put in,” says Andretti.
March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and it’s been a big one for the foundation. Unite Health Share Ministries has partnered with the Andretti Motorsports LMP3 team Andretti drives for to produce the “Steer Clear of Cancer” campaign, featuring the chance to win a trip to Orlando and a private go-kart racing session with Andretti for those who donate $10 or more to the campaign during March. Other organizations, including Abide, Cancer Kinship and California Love Drop, have partnered with #CheckIt4Andretti as well.
“It’s humbling to have support like this from such amazing organizations,” says Andretti.
With his father being as charitable as he was throughout life, Andretti knows taking #CheckIt4Andretti to the next level was the right decision. “I know he would be very proud of what we are doing now to keep his mission going,” he says.
To learn more about #CheckIt4Andretti, visit andrettiautosport.com.
Taylor is currently the senior editor at Cancer Wellness Magazine. With a demonstrated background in the creative and health & wellness industries, they enjoy seeking out narratives of perseverance and empowerment to bring to the page in an engaging, thoughtful manner. Taylor is especially interested in writing about physical and mental wellbeing, the environment, social identity and pop culture.