Let's take some time in this column to thank one of the car industry’s most talented and legendary individuals, Andy Granatelli. Andy Granatelli, who is best known for his wins at the Indy 500 and his beloved STP brand of oil treatment, died of heart failure Sunday afternoon, Dec. 29, 2013 at the age of 90.
Aside from his excellent promotion and marketing of the STP brand through motorsports, and the subsequent millions of street-driven vehicles that carried the STP decals, Granatelli’s major influence started with Studebaker Corp., the noted independent car and truck manufacturer. Granatelli served as CEO of STP after Studebaker put him in charge of the Chemical Compounds Corp. and one of its products was the STP Oil Treatment.
As time went on, Granatelli became the principal at Studebaker Racing in the early 1960s while also involved with the McCulloch Supercharger Company that supplied superchargers in 1957 and 1958 for those beautiful Golden Hawks.
McCullough and Paxton, by the way, were pretty much one and the same and the brainchild of Robert Paxton McCulloch, thus the name branding. McCulloch established a Paxton Supercharger division in 1956, and by 1962, Granatelli, who was then President of Paxton and still head of Studebaker Racing Division, spearheaded a Studebaker purchase of Paxton Superchargers.
It was a perfect fit.
Granatelli’s influence and talent was immediate, as the 1962-63 Studebaker Gran Turismo Hawks and Studebaker Avantis came with Paxton Superchargers as standard equipment. Granatelli also designed the engine under the hood and then drove an Avanti himself (see photo) at Bonneville’s Salt Flats. In 1963, he guided an Avanti with a Paxton supercharger to a timed run of 196.58 mph and proclaimed Avanti as the world's fastest street car.
Of course, Granatelli went on to worldwide fame with his STP Indy Cars and his 30-year long STP sponsorship of the “King” of NASCAR, Richard Petty. In addition to Petty’s numerous wins and championships, Granatelli experienced victory at Indianapolis when he won in 1969 with Mario Andretti (fans surely recall Andretti receiving a victory lane kiss from Granatelli) and again in 1973 with Gordon Johncock.
Said Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles, “Andy Granatelli, known as ‘Mister 500,’ understood better than anyone the spirit and challenge of the Indianapolis 500. He had a remarkable ability to combine innovative technologies with talented race car drivers to make his cars a threat to win at Indianapolis every year. Andy leaves a legacy of historic moments that will live forever in Indianapolis 500 lore.”
In ending, Granatelli's book, "They Call Me Mr. 500," is a great read and goes in depth on the man’s influence in marketing, motoring and racing.
Rest in peace, Andy Granatelli, and thanks for all the memories.