At the age of 90, the automotive and motorsport sport is saying farewell to the one-and-only Andy Granatelli. Officially passing away on December 29th, the popular CEO of STP (Scientifically Treated Petroleum), Granatelli was a person who provided an unforgettable life to car culture as a spokesperson and two-time winning owner at the Indianapolis 500.
Since an early age, Andy Granatelli pursued greater heights in automotive speed. He first made a name for himself modifying Ford Flathead V8 engines. Andy Granatelli working closely with his brothers Joe and Vince created a sprawling performance part business by the 1950s. Through the 1950s and 1960s, Andy Granatelli worked as an engineering and test driver for the racing program assembled by now-extinct American automaker Studebaker.
At the time, Studebaker Packard Corporation had purchased oil and gas treatment additive company STP. Foreseeing the promise of the engine additive company, Studebaker appointed Granatelli as the CEO in 1963. During his formative years, Granatelli also worked as a race promoter. Honing charisma and a sense of showmanship from that experience, Andy Granatelli applied this to selling STP products to a broad market by appearing in company advertisements.
Through auto racing, Andy Granatelli’s legacy could be presents in the prominent display of STP logos. Though sponsorship has existed since the beginning of auto racing, Granatelli popularized the flamboyant advertising of brands on race cars and even around the team itself.
The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has a stage for Andy Granatelli for several decades. First entering a car in 1946 under the Grancor name with his brothers, Andy Granatelli was able to use his presence with STP to bolster his efforts to win the Indianapolis 500. Fielding a four-wheel drive Novi chassis in the Indy 500 from 1963 to 1965, STP rode on Lotus-Ford vehicles of reigning winner Jim Clark and Al Unser in 1966. Clark finished in second place to Graham Hill after leading 66 laps.
In 1967, Andy Granatelli and STP supported an activity that almost changed auto racing. Fielding Parnelli Jones in a turbine-powered race car at the 1967 Indianapolis 500, the STP-badged turbocar came within four laps of victory. A controversial and outrageous vehicle, the 1967 STP Turbine he named “Silent Sam” by its owner was a symbol of Granatelli’s character. Granatelli tried again to bring a turbine powered race car to Brickyard glory in 1968 with a three-car effort involving drivers Joe Leonard, Art Pollard as well as Formula 1 legend and 1966 Indy 500 winner Graham Hill. Revised rules on the Lotus-built jet turbine meant a tougher challenge for the STP racers but Leonard obtained the pole position. Despite the strong returning effort, the Lotus STP Turbines failed to finish the 1968 Indy 500. A ban for turbine powered race cars left Andy Granatelli unable to realize victory with the radical race car.
Defeated in his quest to place a turbine-powered car in victory lane, Granatelli still wanted an elusive Indy 500 victory. Enlisting the talent of Mario Andretti in 1969, STP logos adorned a four-wheel drive Lotus powered Ford. After qualifying second, a turn-four crash in practice claimed the specially built race vehicle. After years of fielding advanced machinery, Andy Granatelli would watch Andretti start the race with a Brawner Hawk chassis that required modifications to handle the rigors of 500 miles.
Crossing the finish line first, Mario Andretti finally took STP to victory lane. An overjoyed and affectionate Granatelli greeted Andretti in the post-race celebration having finally achieved this sought-after goal as a car owner. Four years later, Granatelli and STP returned to victory lane with Gordon Johncock. As well as making a name for himself, his brothers shared an integral role in Andy Granatelli’s success. Older brother Joe Granatelli was involved as a chief mechanic during the Indianapolis 500 runs.
In the NASCAR community, Andy Granatelli will be remembered for uniting Richard Petty with a sponsorship relationship still lasts to an extent today. Originally, STP sponsorship was worn on the #99 car driven by Fred Lorenzen in 1971. Wanting to get behind The King for the 1972 NASCAR season, Granatelli offered Richard Petty $250,000 for the placement of STP logos on the #43 machine. However, the deal was almost doomed from the start by car color. Granatelli insisted the #43 Dodge Charger have Day-Glo Red while The King wanted to keep his famous racing shade popularly known as “Petty Blue”.
Compromising under Granatelli give Richard Petty a chance to think the rich deal over, the Day-Glo Red and Petty Blue was shared on the body panels of Petty Enterprise machines. From 1972 until Richard Petty’s retirement, the #43 car and STP were found in the NASCAR Cup series’ victory lane 60 times including 4 times for the Daytona 500. STP still makes an appearance on the #43 car owned by Richard Petty Motorsports thanks to the work of Andy Granatelli.
A personality that affected so many other personalities, Andy Granatelli is being remembered as by former drivers, colleagues and anyone who recognizes the STP brand.
Information and photo source: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, STP