INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – John Andretti passed away Thursday after a lengthy and public battle with cancer.
He was 56.
Andretti used the battle to raise awareness, encouraging others to get a colonoscopy and Check it for Andretti.
He had a long career in NASCAR, IndyCar and beyond, with numerous appearances at the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400.
Beyond that though, Andretti was a champion for others, particularly children.
He raised millions for Riley Hospital For Children.
When race fans everywhere heard the name John Andretti, racing was often what came to mind.
But for kids like Braden Tamosaitis and their families, they knew a man who became their friend, a person who offered comfort and kindness during some of their most difficult moments.
“We’ve known each other for a while,” said Braden, 14. He doesn’t remember the first time he met Andretti. That’s because Braden was only two years old, having back surgery at Riley for his spina bifida.
Andretti was visiting the hospital and stopped in Braden’s room.
“The first time we met him, one of the more memorable things about John was he asked about us,” said Becky Tamosaitis, Braden’s mom.
Andretti also gave Braden a tiny race car.
“That’s the thing Braden held onto that entire stay. Anytime he woke up, if it wasn’t in his hand, he started asking for his car,” said dad Kevin Tamosaitis.
In the years that followed, Braden and his parents got to know Andretti through Kroger Race for Riley, a fundraiser Andretti spent decades building. He raised more than $4 million for the Riley Children’s Foundation.
“He helped the hospital that helped save my life,” said Braden.
“It wasn’t the ‘John Andretti Race for Riley.’ It was the ‘Race for Riley.’ He didn’t want it to be about him. It was about the kids,” Kevin said.
When it came to the kids, Andretti pulled out all the stops, once giving Braden and his family a personal tour of IMS.
“That’s when we really got to see what kind of person John was. There weren’t any TV cameras around. It wasn’t about doing it to put on a show,” said Kevin.
So special was the friendship between Andretti and the Tamosaitis, when Braden found out Andretti was sick three years ago, he wanted his friend to have that special gift Andretti had given him when he was just a baby.
“I just handed him the car and he’s like, ‘Are you sure?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, keep it. You gave it to me, so now I want to give it to you so you make it through your journey,'” Braden said he told Andretti.
As that journey ends for Andretti, friends like Braden hope to carry on by giving back to kids who need it.