Biographical / Historical
Andy Granatelli (1923-2013) was an automobile racing promoter, a race car engine designer and an automotive innovator. Two of his cars, a 1967 turbine engine race car and the 1969 Indy 500 winner, are in NMAH's Work & Industry collection. More than any other racing figure, Granatelli bridged the realms of garage tinkerers and professional motorsports, and he stimulated public interest in auto racing on a national level. His STP Corporation became a high-profile sponsor of Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR race cars, with Granatelli appearing in ads and commercials. His larger-than-life personality and flair for the dramatic made him an American cultural phenomenon. His career is well summed up in the profile written for his 2003 induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame:
Racer, entrepreneur, engineer, promoter, business executive. This is how one begins to describe the career of Andy Granatelli. But the title Mister 500 is the one that befits him most, for it describes a lifelong dream to conquer the famous 500-mile race in Indianapolis.
It was a preposterous dream for the scrappy kid growing up in the slums of Chicago, whose mother had died when he was twelve, and two years later, at the age of fourteen, dropped out of school to help his father feed the family. Andy Granatelli began his quest for Indy 500 fame at the age of 20 in 1943, when he and his brother pooled their meager, hard-earned money and purchased a Texaco gas station on the north side of Chicago, which he called Andy's Super Service. Andy, always the promoter, needed a gimmick to set himself apart from other service stations. His gimmick? Granatelli initiated the first pit stop service station, utilizing four or five mechanics to work on a car at one time.
Customers appreciated the true super service experience and would often wait in line for this unique treatment. With this unique service and Andy's P.T. Barnum style it was no wonder that the station was prosperous, and just two years later, in 1945, he formed the Granatelli Corporation, known as Grancor Automotive Specialists. As the head of Grancor, Andy Granatelli pioneered the concept of mass merchandising performance products and power and speed equipment to a generation of Americans who were discovering the joys of hot rodding.
Andy quickly learned that if you give the customer what he needs, you can make a living; give him what he wants, and you can make a fortune! Granatelli's racing career began in 1946, when he built the first rocket-powered car to race on an oval track. That same year, he took his first car to the Indianapolis 500 -a pre-war Harry Miller- designed Ford.
When Andy Granatelli wasn't burning up tracks, he was tearing up the business world. In 1958, Andy and his brother Joe purchased Paxton Products, a failing engineering firm that made superchargers. With Andy at the helm, Paxton Products became profitable in seven months. In 1961, Andy sold Paxton Products to Studebaker Corporation and stayed on as Paxton's CEO. Two years later, Studebaker management wanted Granatelli to work his magic on an under-performing division called Chemical Compounds Corporation. Chemical Compounds had only one, little known product . . . STP Oil Treatment. With virtually no advertising budget, Andy created a four-pronged approach to turn the company around: a recognizable corporate logo (the STP oval), a product (oil treatment), a product spokesman (himself) and a reason for existence (racing). The STP logo became one of the best recognized in history. STP could be found in virtually every venue of speed: on land, on the water or in the air. Andy Granatelli once said that in the 1960s, virtually every kid in America had an STP sticker on his bedroom door, his notebook or his lunchbox, and he was probably right!
Back at Indianapolis, Granatelli entered a revolutionary race car of his own design - one with a turbine engine in 1967 and 1968. Even though the car failed to finish both years due to mechanical failure, the cars demonstrated superior speed and performance. At the end of the 1968 season, the U.S. Auto Club revised engine specifications, effectively outlawing Granatelli's turbine car. Undeterred, Granatelli returned to Indy the following year with a conventional car and proceeded to win his first Indianapolis 500 with Mario Andretti at the wheel. Four years later, in 1973, Andy won his second and last Indy 500 with a car driven by Gordon Johncock. Andy Granatelli's childhood dream of conquering Indy was fulfilled, not once, but twice.
Andy Granatelli Biography, Automotive Hall of Fame (last accessed January 29, 2020 https://www.automotivehalloffame.org/honoree/andy-granatelli/)