Northwest Tire brings legendary driver to Brandon for grand opening celebration

Jill Meier, Journal editor

Jill Meier/BV Journal 

Mario Andretti (center) had the honors of cutting the celebratory ribbon at Northwest Tire’s grand opening celebration on Thursday, May 25 in Brandon. He’s pictured with Northwest Tire staff and members of the Brandon Valley Area Chamber of Commerce.


Northwest Tire staff (at left) pose for a photo with Mario Andretti at last week’s grand opening celebration


Mario Andrett signed autotgraphs and posed for phnotos with the Brandon public.


Jill Meier/BV Journal 

Mario Andretti signs a replica race car for a Northwest Tire employee.


Jill Meier

Journal editor


It may be considered as one of the most exciting grand opening celebrations in Brandon’s 50-year history.

While the celebration marked the opening of Northwest Tire’s first retail business in South Dakota, the event was also the “talk of the town” when Indianapolis 500-fameed Mario Andretti rolled into town. Since 2019, Andretti has served as the celebrity spokesman for Firestone Tires, one of several brands of tires that Northwest Tire sells. 

“It’s a company that I’ve worked with for many, many years as a test driver for race cars,” he said while signing autographs and posing for photos with the fans. “So much is learned and developed what they learn in racing and applies to the production of tires. It’s been a great ride for me with this company … I owe Firestone a great deal.”

Andretti has only one Indianapolis 500 victory to his name, winning it in 1969, and if you haven’t guessed, the win came on Firestone Tires.

Considered the greatest race car driver of all time, Andretti is one of only three drivers to have won races in Formula One, IndyCar, the World Sportscar Championship, and NASCAR.

Racing runs deep in the Andretti bloodline. 

“Between my brother and I, there are eight race drivers in the family, and we’re the ones that started this. We’re the pioneers for the family,” he said. 

In 1991 and 1992, four members – his two sons, nephew and Andretti himself – of the Andretti family qualified for the Indy 500.

Although the big-time race car driver hasn’t ran the dirt oval at Huset’s Speedway, it’s tracks like that one where he cut his racing “teeth.”

“I’m familiar with speedways around the country, especially at the local level where dirt car racing is prevalent. That was my rodeo a long time ago. I love dirt track racing,” he said.

The generations of Andrettis to follow him have also had their due success behind the wheel.

His son, Michael has the record for most laps led at the Indianapolis 500 without a victory, and his grandson, Marco, looked to have the 500 won in 2006 when he led with one lap remaining but was passed by Sam Hornish right at the checkered flag. 

The Italy-born Andretti grew up in Nazareth, Penn., and last week was his first ever visit to South Dakota. He also hasn’t been to Knoxville, where he was inducted into the raceway’s Hall of Fame. 

“Sprint cars have been my rodeo for many, many years. That was one of the stepping stones for me to get to the top level of Indy cars,” he said. “(My visit here) was just an opportunity to slide this appearance in before I go back to Indy,” for the Memorial Day weekend Indy 500.

“It’s the crown jewel, if you will, of the race world,” he said. “I spend the best part of the month of May there.”

Andretti retired from racing in 1994. 

While the roar of the engine and the thrill of the speed lured him in, Andretti says it’s the fans that are most important.

“The fans for us are the most important part of the sport. Without the fans, we don’t exist, so it’s a great feeling,” he said.

Owner Al Wald was in Brandon for the grand opening celebration last week. He couldn’t help his emotions from spilling out as he surveyed the lobby that was filled with Brandonites.

“As I look around, I’m getting emotional,” says Wald, who, with his partner, the late Tony Vetter, launched Northwest Tire on March 1, 1977. “We have 330-some employees with 2,776 years of combined experience, and without them, we can’t make it happen.” 

Dan Pearson, who is the company president, got his start 44 years ago in the shop changing tires. He was promoted to salesman and like Wald, believes their employees are their No. 1 asset.

“We try to take very good care of them. Even as big as we’re getting, we’re still like a family.”

Although Brandon is their first location for a retail store in South Dakota, Northwest Tire has had a presence here for 19 years with their warehouse. 

“The customers have been great, the town’s been great,” said Kory Grossman, Northwest Tire vice president. “Having the warehouse in town to support us that we’ve had here for 19 years is really a bonus, and it all happens because of our employees. Our staff makes the difference, so we’re glad to be here.” 

Grossman, who has 30 years with the company, was just as excited as the public to have Andretti in Brandon.

“It’s such an honor to have Mario here. It’s a nice attraction and our partnership with Firestone and Bridgestone, and Mario has been a part of that. I think he started testing Firestone tires in 1964, so that’s a long time,” said Grossman, noting they’ve been a Firestone dealer since 1977 when the company first started.

“We’ve have Monster Trucks and Big Foot before, but this is our first time with Mario,” Grossman said. “And we’re well-committed to Brandon.”







The Brandon Valley Journal


The Brandon Valley Journal
1404 E. Cedar St.
Brandon, SD 57005
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