346. Andy Granatelli
Andy Granatelli was born on Chicago’s North Side on 18 March 1923. His Mother died when he was twelve. Two years later, he dropped out of school to help support the family. Even then, according to Granatelli, the Indianapolis 500 was his dream.
In 1943, Granatelli and his brothers, Joe and Vince, pooled their savings to open “Andy’s Super Service,” a Texaco gas station. Their initial hook was to employ four or five mechanics to run out, pit crew style, to quickly service each individual customer. The gimmick worked, and often, long lines formed to receive the “rapid service.”
Two years later, the Granatelli brothers formed the Granatelli Corporation, aka Grancor Automotive Specialists, which mass merchandised speed performance products to a post-war generation of gearheads, particularly hot-rodders.
By 1946, Andy was building cars. He took a prewar Miller-Ford to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There, he passed his drivers test, wearing a crash helmet he borrowed from Big Bill France. He was badly outclassed in qualifications, but was hooked on the Month of May. Over the years, Fred Agabashian, Buddy Baker, Neil Bonnett, Jim Clark, Wally Dallenbach, Pat Flaherty, Graham Hill, Jim Hurtubise, Nikki Lauda, Joe Leonard, Freddie Lorenzen, Art Pollard, Sam Posey, Jim Rathmann, Swede Savage, Dick Simon, Al and Bobby Unser all raced for Granatelli. Undoubtedly, the most famous association of all was with Richard Petty, who carried the STP logo to so many NASCAR victories.
In 1958, Andy and Joe purchased Paxton Products, which manufactured superchargers. Granatelli proceeded to install them in many record-breaking speedsters and make the company profitable in seven short months. In 1961, he sold Paxton to Studebaker.
Two years later, Studebaker hired him to run Chemical Compounds Corporation that had only one product, STP (“Scientifically Treated Petroleum”) Oil Treatment. With no advertising budget, Granatelli created the recognizable STP oval logo, an Indy 500 racing tradition, and a fabulously effective corporate spokesman: himself. PT Barnum never had it so good. Granatelli dressed himself and his pit crews in white suits covered with red STP ovals. He claimed that every kid in America had an STP sticker on their bedroom door.
Granatelli inherited the Novi, a crowd favorite at Indy. Under his stewardship, the Novi’s horsepower increased from 450 to 837. Although a turbine had previously appeared at the Speedway, Granatelli developed two totally new chassis designs, in two years time, to intimidate competition at the Speedway. His reward for introducing new technology and the “turbine,” was to be, effectively, blacklisted from the series. USAC reduced the air intake each year to make the turbine, though more efficient, incapable of developing the horsepower of conventional internal combustion engines.