INDIANAPOLIS -- As days go, July 13, 1969 was a fairly fulfilling one for Mario Andretti. Having recently won the Indianapolis 500, the crown jewel of auto racing, he rode through Nazareth, Pa., in his very own victory parade. The good townspeople also saw fit to change the name of the street he lived on from Market Street to Victory Lane. Later that night, Andretti sat on the pole in a 100-mile race in Nazareth and won it. Immediately following, he made an even more significant sprint, to the nearby hospital where his wife Dee Ann was giving birth to daughter Barbi Dee.

Andretti was 29 years old and at the top of his profession. "Back then," he said Friday, "I thought I'd win a dozen of these things."

Andretti is 50 now and he may be the greatest race car driver of all time. He is one of only two men to win Formula One and Indy Car titles. He leads all drivers with 64 poles and is second all-time in victories. But he did not collect those dozen Indianapolis 500 trophies. He didn't collect a half-dozen, he didn't even collect a second one. On this, Mario Andretti's silver anniversary trip to Indianapolis, he still has just that one 1969 trophy to show for his efforts here. A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Bobby Unser -- his peers -- have each won at least three.

His 27-year-old son and teammate Michael stands a better chance of winning Sunday's 75th Indy 500. So, everybody wants to know whether Mario hates this old brickyard, whether he believes -- really believes in his heart -- he can win one more, and if there's one disappointment that hurt him more than the 24 others.

"As time goes by, it does become more and more challenging," Andretti said Friday, "because you're running out of time. When you're young, you say, 'Oh well, there's next year.' That's not a luxury I have at this point in my career.

"I've led enough laps here to know I can win. I know realistically that I can be there at the end. So, there's no reason to feel negative in any way. I think I'm justified in feeling positive about coming to Indianapolis. I've led more laps here than many three-time winners. I just haven't led the right ones, obviously."

Andretti can joke about his failures here over the last 20 years, but says it is "not a source of humor for me." Some people suspect his biggest disappointment was 1981 when (after leaving the Roger Penske team and driving a car owned by Pat Patrick) he finished the race and was awarded the victory after Bobby Unser was penalized, only to have a U.S. Auto Club appeals court reinstate Unser as the winner five months later. And others feel the following year, when Kevin Cogan crashed into him before the start, must rank right with it. Fueling that suspicion is the fact that Andretti is tight-lipped on either incident.

But the Indianapolis race Andretti says was more disappointing than any other came in 1987, when he started first, led 170 laps in a Paul Newman/Carl Haas car, then watched the whole dominant effort go down the drain when the car broke a valve spring.

"Clearly, what comes to mind is 1987, when I felt I really had the car to win it all," he said. "Everything was working picture perfect. We just broke down with 23 laps to go, I believe it was. It was a tremendous letdown because you don't have that many chances to just control the entire field."

Andretti suffered that feeling early in his Indy career, back in 1966 and 1967 when everybody conceded he had the fastest car. In '66, he had an engine problem. "If that car stayed together I would have won one of the easiest races of my life," he said. "I had so much of an advantage." And of a lost wheel in '67, he says, "I really had a handle on that car. I could have won so easily."

Andretti is not a whiner. He points out to his audience that he probably should not have won the year he did, '69, when he suffered flash burns to his face during a practice run, then won with a car he never intended to race. "The car we had that year was quick, but fragile," Andretti said. "Everything fell off it, including the wheel {which led to the flash burns}. The backup car hadn't even been cleaned, and I did not put my chances as being very good."

The car had tremendous overheating problems throughout the race, but Andretti somehow won. "It doesn't mean if I hadn't had the right luck, I wouldn't have won more than once," Andretti said.

Kind words came Friday from a seemingly unlikely source, "Little Al" or Al Unser Jr., with whom Andretti had a run-in last year in Long Beach. Andretti had to be physically restrained after being bumped out of the race by Little Al, who went on to win.

At a news conference Friday, Unser Jr., son of four-time champion Al Unser, said the driver he admired most as a kid, because of his versatility, was Mario Andretti. "Little Al saying that publicly is quite a compliment," Andretti said, appearing very surprised to hear the statement. (When asked whom he admired growing up, Andretti quipped, "A.J. Foyt," who is 55 years old, the oldest man ever to line up here.)

These recent losses may be slightly easier to stomach because Andretti is putting his mark on the Indianapolis 500 in other ways. His son Michael, bold and aggressive like his father, will line up next to his dad in Row 2 on Sunday. John Andretti, Mario's nephew, will line up in a Porsche-March right behind uncle and cousin in Row 4. And Mario's youngest son, Jeff, narrowly missed qualifying for this year's field.

Next year may be the only time when all four make it into the field, and it would be the first time that four men from one family drive in the Indianapolis 500, because Michael intends to leave for Europe after next year and try the Formula One circuit, where his father made his name. Jeff says in 100 years all 33 cars in the field will be driven by Andrettis.

Somebody asked Michael about his father's lack of success here, and he answered: "I think there's nobody who has achieved what he has and nobody ever will. There are some who might equal him in some categories, but when you spread it out over different types of race cars, there's nobody who's going to achieve what he did. Sprint cars, midgets, Pike's Peak, Daytona 500, Indy 500, world championship. It just can't be done today."

Winning Indianapolis again, however, might be out of his father's reach. "So many real opportunities have gone by and it didn't happen," Mario Andretti said, staring off into the distance. "Yeah, 1969 means so much more, indeed today than it did. Winning today would mean so much more."