Mario Andretti unveils new Andretti Karting in Buford

Mario Andretti's son-in-law Giuseppe Curto takes a go-kart for a spin while on a tour of the karting track during the grand opening at the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Mario Andretti's son-in-law Giuseppe Curto takes a go-kart for a spin while on a tour of the karting track during the grand opening at the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The racing legend was on hand to cut the ribbon at new facility.

If you’re going to operate a business related to motor racing, Andretti is the name you want on the company logo. No other moniker in the public realm compels more respect or conveys the same panache as the surname of the Italian-born American globally recognized as one of the greatest race car drivers in the sport’s history.

Mario Gabriel Andretti won the 1967 Daytona 500, 1969 Indianapolis 500 and 1978 Formula 1 championship, a trifecta akin to excelling in three different sporting disciplines, but way harder. Andretti is a four-time Indy Car champion who thrice won the grueling Sebring 11-hour endurance race, conquered the notoriously dangerous Pikes Peak Hillclimb and was dubbed “Driver of the Century” in 2000 by the Associated Press. Retired from professional competition since 1994, at 81 years young, he remains preternaturally active as a high performance tire test driver, corporate consultant and business entrepreneur.

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Gwinnett County Commissioners Chair Nicole Love Hendrickson speaks with Mario Andretti during the grand opening of the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Gwinnett County Commissioners Chair Nicole Love Hendrickson speaks with Mario Andretti during the grand opening of the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Gwinnett County Commissioners Chair Nicole Love Hendrickson speaks with Mario Andretti during the grand opening of the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

No stranger to Atlanta, the octogenarian patriarch from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, was in Buford on Wednesday for the official opening of the second Andretti Indoor Karting and Games (AIKG) facility in Georgia, located in The Exchange at Gwinnett. Also present at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the 80,000-square-foot family entertainment, corporate meeting and special events venue were Gwinnett County Commissioners Chair Nicole Love Hendrickson; County Commissioner from District 4 Marlene Fosque; and Jill Edwards, Chair Elect, Gwinnett Chamber Board of Directors.

“We’re always challenging ourselves to raise the entertainment experience at our facilities to that next level,” said Mario Andretti. “The Buford location truly represents the Andretti family’s commitment to providing the absolute best performance in everything we do.”

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Mario Andretti, center, is joined by Eddie Hamann, right, Managing Partner of Andretti Indoor Karting & Games, family and other Andretti Indoor Karting & Games employees during the ribbon cutting ceremony for the grand opening of the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Mario Andretti, center, is joined by Eddie Hamann, right, Managing Partner of Andretti Indoor Karting & Games, family and other Andretti Indoor Karting & Games employees during the ribbon cutting ceremony for the grand opening of the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Mario Andretti, center, is joined by Eddie Hamann, right, Managing Partner of Andretti Indoor Karting & Games, family and other Andretti Indoor Karting & Games employees during the ribbon cutting ceremony for the grand opening of the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Accompanying Andretti for the day-long media confab and invitation-only celebration was a family entourage, which included his youngest son Jeff; nephew Adam, son of Mario’s twin brother Aldo who succumbed to COVID-19 in December; and Jarrett, son of Mario’s nephew John Andretti who died of colon cancer in January 2020 at age 56.

“It’s been a tough year for the Andrettis,” said Eddie Hamann, managing partner of AIKG, which is based in Orlando, Florida.

Hamann, a native of Colombia, has been operations director of the enterprise that morphed into AIKG since 2001 when he and John Andretti opened Andretti Speed Lab in Roswell. Their original concept was to create a corporate-team building and entertainment venue built around kart racing and arcade games. The venture got off to a roaring start, but sputtered after a couple of years, prompting John to turn to his uncle for a boost.

“We’re all so busy, at first I wasn’t all that aware of what the business was all about,” said the elder Andretti.

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The Karting track at the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

The Karting track at the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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The Karting track at the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

A visit to the Roswell facility brought the Andretti patriarch up to speed, along with his eldest son Michael, a former Indy Car champion, now a successful racing team owner and entrepreneur in his own right. Father and son noted that the facility needed a complete tune-up and a few new speed parts, but otherwise held plenty of potential.

“We were impressed,” Mario Andretti said. “It was something right up our alley. It’s certainly a business we could identify with.”

Significant investment brought upgrades, new equipment and higher visibility to the Roswell facility, which eventually led to the opening in 2015 of a second AIKG in Marietta. In January 2020, the Roswell business ceased operating to pave the way for the Buford venue. AIKG now operates six facilities in Florida, Georgia and Texas.

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Eddie Hamann, right, Managing Partner of Andretti Indoor Karting & Games, gives Mario Andretti, center, and his family a tour of the new site in Buford on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Eddie Hamann, right, Managing Partner of Andretti Indoor Karting & Games, gives Mario Andretti, center, and his family a tour of the new site in Buford on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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Eddie Hamann, right, Managing Partner of Andretti Indoor Karting & Games, gives Mario Andretti, center, and his family a tour of the new site in Buford on Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

In addition to themed arcade games featuring high profile fantasy characters from Marvel (The Avengers) and DC (Justice League, Wonder Woman), the Buford facility builds on the Andretti commitment to deliver exciting and innovative racing and gaming experiences. Customers can virtually blast interactive targets, as well as each other, in a two-level laser tag arena; immerse themselves in Hologate, a four-player virtual reality playscape; and test their hand-eye-foot coordination on duckpin bowling lanes enhanced by projection screens, black lights, leather couches and a full menu of upscale edibles.

The Andretti 7D Experience is a 3D interactive movie environment with visceral special effects, which lets up to a dozen participants armed with laser blasters battle on-screen enemies. Racing simulators allow stationary drivers strapped into a racing seat to compete on the world’s greatest racetracks in modern-day and historic sports and racing cars.

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06/23/2021 — Buford, Georgia — The bowling alley at the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

06/23/2021 — Buford, Georgia — The bowling alley at the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

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06/23/2021 — Buford, Georgia — The bowling alley at the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Back in the non-virtual world, the karting venue features high-performance Ecovolt GT go-karts built by London-based Biz Karts in which customers zoom around a twisty, multi-level track at speeds up to 35 mph. A junior-sized version of the electric racing vehicles fulfills the need for not-as-much speed among younger competitors. For world champion wannabes between four and seven years old, a Mini Mario kart is the designated ride.

On the morning of the media event, the Andretti clan took to the karting track minutes after arriving at the facility. A quick 6-lap session gave the experienced group a taste of what customers should expect.

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Mario Andretti and his family participate in the Andretti 7D experience at the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@aj

Mario Andretti and his family participate in the Andretti 7D experience at the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@aj

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Mario Andretti and his family participate in the Andretti 7D experience at the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games in Buford Wednesday, June 23, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@aj

Credit: Alyssa Pointer/Alyssa.Pointer@aj

“The best part was when we got out of the karts and were all laughing and rubbing our bellies like schoolkids,” said Adam Andretti, whose resume includes stints in NASCAR late model stock cars and the Trans-Am sports car series. “It’s that glow that makes you forget about everything else in the world for those few precious seconds.”

Seated a few feet away from Adam, uncle Mario leaned his head back, closed his eyes and smiled.


IF YOU GO

Andretti Indoor Karting & Games. 10 a.m.-midnight Sundays-Thursdays; 10 a.m.-1 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays. No admission charge; activities are pay as you go, see website for pricing. 2925 Buford Drive, Suite 300, Buford. 470-646-3278, andrettikarting.com.