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In a long career, a journalist is bound to ask the occasional stupid question. Sometimes it’s intentional. Sometimes a good question scares a subject to death or makes him (or her) angry. It’s about eliciting a response.

The worst part of transcribing interview recordings is that it’s boring. The second worst part is that it’s cringe-worthy. Even though we transcribe the answers, we hear the questions. It’s sort of like thinking of something really stupid from youth. Bad questions are plaid sportcoats with a pad on the shoulder in case the need to fire a shotgun arises for some reason.

In the spring of 1993, my first as a full-time NASCAR scribe, I interviewed John Andretti in the lounge of his team’s transporter at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The first racing simulation game I ever played was of the Indianapolis 500, and while apparently primitive by today’s standards, it seemed realistic when released in 1989. The interview was over, and I don’t remember a word of it today, but John and I chatted a while after I turned off the microcassette player, which was then also state of the art.

The video game gave its player a choice of three vehicles: a yellow Penske-Chevrolet, a red Lola-Buick and a blue March-Cosworth. The player could make small adjustments, but in general, the Penske was fastest and hardest to handle, and the March was slowest and easiest to drive. I explained all this to Andretti, an Indy-car winner now casting his lot in NASCAR. I told John I could make the Penske fast enough to put it on the pole, but I couldn’t hang onto it during the race and would have to switch to the March, which was comfortable in race traffic. In other words, I could make it work in qualifying, but it was too squirrelly in the race.

John sighed, leaned forward and said quietly, “That’s exactly what we do. There’s a qualifying setup and a race setup.”

Duh. I was a embarrassed for a solid week. Now I’m just embarrassed when I think about it.

Tony Stewart would have bitten my head off, or at least made fun of me every time he saw me. Fortunately, I had six more years’ experience when I became acquainted with Tony.

Well, if it’s not Goggles Paisano. How’s the Indianrockolis 500 looking this year?

That was a Flintstones episode, by the way. It also starred Ann-Margrock.

John Andretti died at age 56 of colon cancer. His was a slow, excruciating demise. I haven’t seen him in years, but I’ll miss him. He and his father, Aldo, were the Andrettis I knew. Other Andrettis, I merely admired.

Soft-spoken, kind, honest and witty, that John died of a dread disease is the most brutal of ironies. He survived scary crashes in almost every variety of racing vehicle. Yet he died of the same disease that claimed my father and at the same age.