Remembering Andy Granatelli (1923 – 2013) Continued
After failing to qualify due to a misunderstanding in 1954, Granatelli took a hiatus for several years and did not return as an entrant until 1961. During his early days at the track, he had been mesmerized by the front-drive Novis of Ralph Hepburn, Duke Nalon, Cliff Bergere, Chet Miller and Rex Mays, secretly wishing he could have driven one. In 1956, Novi owner Lew Welch switched to rear-drive cars but after not qualifying in 1959 and 1960 and then running into a personal reversal of fortune, he put the Novi team up for sale. Granatelli, then in California and associated with Paxton Products, purchased the entire package “for a song” and hurriedly entered one of the cars in the 1961 “500.”
For a couple of days, Granatelli’s Novi even loomed as a legitimate contender for the pole position with Dick Rathmann “test hopping” at faster than 148 mph. But Rathmann’s car owner would not release him from his contract. After a variety of others “took rides,” poor Ralph Liguori had the misfortune of having a spectacularly broken crankshaft end the campaign.
After failing to get either Chuck Stevenson or Bill Cheesbourg “in the show” in 1962, Granatelli achieved something in 1963 Lew Welch never had: qualify three Novis, the drivers on this occasion being Jim Hurtubise (who started second and led the first lap) and rookies Bobby Unser and Art Malone. Although three cars qualified again in 1964, and two in 1965, the only driver to see a checkered flag during these years was Malone, who completed 194 laps for 11th in 1964.
In 1966, there was a most unlikely teaming-up of the flamboyant Granatelli, now president of STP Corporation, and the defending “500” winners, Scotland’s gentleman farmer Jim Clark and principal of Lotus Cars, Ltd, the David Niven-like Colin Chapman. They finished second to Graham Hill with their florescent orange Lotus (a huge shock to the system of purists) and an “almost” third with teammate Al Unser, who was involved in an accident late in the race.
Hill joining Clark in similar livery for 1967 would seem to have been worthy of the main headlines, but that story was completely overshadowed by another STP entry, Parnelli Jones in a revolutionary four-wheel-drive vehicle powered by a Pratt & Whitney ST6 gas turbine engine intended for helicopters. It started sixth, led the first lap by a considerable margin and then proceeded to lead 171 of the first 196 laps, forced out with transmission failure while leading within sight of the finish.
Ah, the publicity!
During those days, STP was a regular sponsor of “The Tonight Show,” starring Johnny Carson. In addition to Granatelli being an occasional studio guest, this is where those “raincoat” commercials would appear, including those which demonstrated the claimed lubrication qualities of STP by Andy dipping the shaft of a screwdriver in a can and then challenging retired undefeated world heavyweight boxing champion Rocky Marciano to successfully grip the upturned screwdriver between his finger and thumb. It would invariably hit the table within a second or two.
In fall 1967, Carson came to IMS. Under the tutelage of Jones, Andretti and Rodger Ward, Carson took several laps in the Parnelli turbine. The run was featured in a segment on the show a few nights later.
While Janet Guthrie was the first female ever to be entered for the “500” (1976) and to earn a starting position (1977), she was not the first ever to drive a race car around the track. That had already taken place in fall 1963 when, under the guidance of Eddie Sachs, drag racing star Paula Murphy took three medium-paced laps in a Granatelli Novi. Murphy, with her outgoing personality and ready laugh was always a great favorite of Granatelli’s, comprising part of the driving team he formed for the setting of hundreds of class records for Studebaker passenger cars in 1963 at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
For 1968, Andy entered 11 cars in the “500,” not with the intent of running anywhere near that many, but reasoning that a variety of different STP products could be inexpensively advertised by appearing in the numerous versions of the printed entry lists as the sponsor on entered cars. Some of those cars didn’t even exist, but the entry fee was a bargain at only $1,000 per car.
The main thrust for 1968 was a quartet of rear-engined “wedge-shaped” turbine-powered cars, built by Lotus. Three qualified, with entries driven by Joe Leonard and Graham Hill starting one-two with new one and four-lap track records faster than 170 mph. But none finished. Leonard almost duplicated Jones’ heartbreak of a year earlier by suffering a fuel pump failure only nine laps from the checkered flag while leading.
It seemed like everyone was talking about the turbines, and wouldn’t you know, STP would tend to get the occasional mention, as well.
Another lesser-known fact is that during these years, Granatelli also controlled the purse strings for another sponsor, Wagner Lockheed Brake Fluid. So the Indianapolis 500 runs between 1967 and 1969 by Dan Gurney, Billy Vukovich, George Snider, Jochen Rindt and Bobby Johns were also courtesy of Granatelli.
The 1969 STP effort, on paper at least, appeared to represent a guaranteed domination of the front row, a trio of four-wheel-drive turbocharged V8 Ford powered Lotus type 64s to be driven by Andretti, Hill and Rindt. Amazingly, none qualified. Andretti crashed heavily in practice, and the other two were withdrawn without making a qualifying attempt. But the team finally won the race with Andretti in a much more standard (if that would be the term) turbocharged Ford V8 rear-drive Brabham-based Brawner Hawk.
Granatelli took endless ribbing for the win. He was a strong advocate of innovation, relying on new developments for many years. But it was a much more “status quo” package that finally carried him to victory.
After leaving the STP Corporation at the end of 1974, Granatelli left racing as an entrant but continued to maintain a major presence each May. His “Unsung Hero Award” has long since been presented at the 500 drivers’ meeting, and arrangements were made just this past May for its permanent perpetuation.
Granatelli was never much for quietly slipping in and out of town. His race weekend entourage in recent years would typically consist of an armada of white vans, with the name “GRANATELLI” appearing in massive letters at the top of each windshield.
Everything was planned out with military-like precision, a plan “B” and plan “C” often in place in anticipation of a potential weather issue. And one never knew who might be riding inside those vans, his guests having included Michael Douglas, Ernest Borgnine, Carol Burnett, Priscilla Presley, Stuart Whitman, Rich Little and Tab Hunter, among many others.
Andy’s entertaining skills were legendary, sometimes an entire restaurant being taken over in order to accommodate his party of friends and dignitaries. Once, when a guest gave credit to the restaurant proprietor for the quality of the steaks, Granatelli fired back with a typically rapier-like: “Those weren’t his steaks. Those were Andy Granatelli steaks. I supplied them, and he simply cooked them. You don’t think I would serve ordinary food to my friends, do you?”
And he was as quick with a comeback line as anyone. At the USAC Stock Car banquet January 1966 in Chicago (actor Dale Robertson was one of his guests), Granatelli presented an award to the popular Chicago-area veteran Sal Tovella. While posing for the photographers, Sal attempted cozying up to Andy and reminiscing over the occasional “hippodroming” antics employed during the old Hurricane Hot Rod days with, “Hey, Andy, remember back when I was a kid running for you at Soldier Field, and you used to pay me a $100 a night to get upside down?”
“Yeah,” fired back Andy, “and now you are running with USAC and doing it for nothing!”
Granatelli was as sharp as a tack right to the very end. Mobility had been a challenge for some time, but his basso voice was strong and booming and authoritative, his thoughts tumbling out in a rapid-fire barrage just as they had throughout his life.
Letters he wrote, such those advocating a rules change, were always incredibly well thought out and organized, the reader feeling as if Andy was talking. He was passionate and funny and generous.
It was amazing that even into his late 70s, Granatelli could still hit the dance floor and in spite of his considerable bulk, astonish friends by performing the most elaborate and colorful interpretations of a jitterbug.
He was a truly amazing person.
Granatelli is survived by his wife, Dolly, brother Vince, sons, Vince and Anthony, and three grandchildren.
And in complete contrast to the way he conducted his entire life, he quietly requested that there be no services.