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By: Wm. R. LaDow

Daily Trackside Reports from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Published in the Post-Tribune / Chicago Sun-Times News Group
Originally Published on May 22, 2008 — Speedway, Indiana

When racing fans hear the name Granatelli, the first image that usually comes to mind is that of a large, jovial man wearing a white sport coat, covered in red, oval-shaped, STP decals. Although an accurate image of Andy Granatelli, it is a far, far cry from what the Granatelli name really means to the legacy of American motorsports.

You see there wasn’t just one Granatelli, there were three and each contributed significantly to how Americans eventually nurtured their cars. It was the Granatelli Brothers who brought the word “high” to high-performance, creating a multi-million dollar business based on the automotive parts aftermarket. It was the Granatellis who would create the concept of the “Speed Shop” as we would come to know it, and they would do it by example, becoming a major force in American motorsports.

Tough beginnings …

As youngsters growing up in Depression-era Chicago, the three Granatelli boys, Joseph (born 1919) Andrew (born 1923) and Vincent (born 1927), leaned about life the hard way.

Their father, Vincent, an immigrant born near Palermo, Italy, became a widower when the boys were just 16, 12 and 8, respectively. In the 1920s, Papa Granatelli worked as a grocer during the day and taught himself how to read and write English at night. It was his work ethic that seemed to catch fire in the hearts of his young sons.

As they got older, they hauled around a car battery during cold Chicago winter mornings and gave jump starts to stalled cars for a dollar. All three of the boys worked multiple jobs, pooling their money together to fund their various money making schemes until Joe was finally old enough to get a job as a mechanic. It wasn’t long till he was one of best “wrenches” on the north side. He then taught Andy and they both taught Vince.

Getting into cars …

PartsWith all three becoming master mechanics, their wallets began to thicken with cash. They bought new cars and souped them up, racing on rural roads for money. Fast cars brought easy money, and that bought the boys more high-performance parts to make their cars even faster. Again they pooled their cash and opened up Andy’s Super Service at 4506 N. Clarendon, just off Lake Shore Drive. The business was a huge success.

But as with just about every Granatelli success there came a setback. As the boys were beginning to bank some serious money, they showed up for work the morning of Aug. 6, 1944, to find that they had been the victim of a heist. Not only was everything in the shop gone — tools, equipment, parts, and cash register — but the boys’ two hot rods and tow truck also were driven away by the thieves. With no insurance, they had to start over from scratch.

They devoted their next business strictly to speed. Opening up a shop at 5058 North Broadway, they continued their mechanical mastery working on cars and began to contract out their sales services for other companies that were producing high-performance parts, such as cams, crankshafts, intake manifolds and superchargers. Their business took off as they became known for their engineering expertise building high-performance Ford V8 engines.

Their dedication to selling the “secret of speed” took them racing, first as drivers, then as promoters. The Granatelli Brothers founded the Hurricane Hot Rod Racing Association and put tens of thousands of racing fans in the seats of Chicago’s Soldier field, night after night. Short tracks, drag strips, anywhere people could race, the Granatellis were right there to manage the racing and sell racers more “speed.”

Their reputation growing, there was only one more place for the Granatellis to challenge, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Off to Indianapolis …

Granatelli Boys 1946

They showed up at Indy in 1946, right after World War II. The Granatellis ran Grancor cars out of their own speed shops from 1946 through 1954, but didn’t make it to the winner’s circle. Their best showing was a second place with Jim Rathmann in 1952. All the while they continued to grow their reputations as some of the finest engineering minds in the racing business, all with very little formal education.

By 1956, the Granatelli Brothers were doing $14 million a year with Grancor as masters of the concept of mass merchandising high-performance auto parts. In 1957, they walked away from it all and retired — or so they thought.

Relocating to California, Andy got the bug to get back in business and he and Joe purchased the supercharger business of Paxton Products Corporation.

They sold it for a hefty profit three years later to Studebaker, with Andy joining the management of South Bend automaker in the deal. (Joe reacquired the company years later, serving as president until 2003.)

Enter the Novis …

The next few years, pushing the high-performance benefits of their superchargers, the company set more than 300 land speed and endurance records at various racing venues. These successes led to opportunities with Chrysler and ultimately, engineering a redesign of the famed Indianapolis Novi engine. It was during this time that the Granatelli Brothers started racing the fan favorite Novis at Indianapolis.

STPThen the one product that would define Andy Granatelli as the guru of auto product sales and marketing surfaced in 1963, when Studebaker’s Chemical Compound Division was looking for guidance. Andy took over as CEO, leaving his other businesses in the sound hands of his brothers and took a product by the name of STP, short for Scientifically Treated Petroleum and grew the business to a level of more than 80 percent market share.

It was a marriage made in heaven. Granatelli mass-marketed his product like none ever before. The STP logo became the most recognizable in all of advertising, as the company became the advertising “voice” for all of motorsports through its huge (and overly generous) advertising budget. So powerful was the image of Granatelli and STP’s marketing, that a cartoon was published in the New York Times of Neil Armstrong setting foot on the moon and the first thing he saw was an STP decal.

Heartbreak and triumph …

The meteoric growth of their businesses allowed the Granatelli Brothers to go racing more than ever before. They became an institution at Indianapolis. They raced at the Brickyard over the course of the next three decades.

Granatell Turbine

Their most defining moments were: 1) dominating and almost winning the 1967 Indy 500 with Parnelli Jones piloting the STP Turbine “Whooshmobile” before a $3 gearbox bearing cost them the race with just three laps to go; 2) winning the 1969 Indy 500 with Mario Andretti driving and; 3) winning the 500 in 1973 with Gordon Johncock. The Granatelli brothers were so innovative that race sanctioning bodies soon began to legislate their cars out of existence.

Next they went to stock car racing first with Nichels Engineering and Fred Lorenzen in 1971 and later with Petty Enterprises in 1972.

The myriad of their automobile related businesses kept the boys busy into the new millennium. Joe, Andy, and Vince continued to be leaders by example and amassed personal fortunes during the course of their lives.

Joe passed away in 2003, Andy this past December 29th, leaving Vincent as the sole brother still with us. Vincent is retired, residing in Arizona.

The Granatelli Brothers story is one of hard work, commitment and never giving up, all qualities they learned growing up on the streets of Chicago.

Two beloved figures in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history have been elected to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame: two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, and longtime motorsports radio and television personality and IMS Public Address announcer Bob Jenkins.

The two were chosen from a ballot of 14 nominees by a distinguished panel of more than 140 auto racing journalists, participants and historians. Wheldon and Jenkins will be formally inducted into the elite group Thursday, May 23 at the 2019 IMS Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers Dinner, presented by Firestone, at the Indianapolis Downtown Marriott.

2005, 2011 Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon

Wheldon was a favorite with fans and in the paddock and he was equally successful on the track. The Englishman earned 16 wins in 128 career NTT IndyCar Series starts, including the 2005 and 2011 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. After finishing second in the series championship to Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan in 2004, Wheldon earned the 2005 title with Andretti. He joined Chip Ganassi Racing in 2006 and tied Sam Hornish Jr. in points – but lost the championship on the tiebreaker (most wins).

Nicknamed “Lionheart,” Wheldon was a native of Emberton, Buckinghamshire, England, and despite his early upbringing in karts and junior road-racing series, he excelled on ovals and professed a great love and respect for the 2.5-mile IMS oval.

Wheldon tragically lost his life in a multicar crash during the season-ending race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16, 2011.

Jenkins, who was born in Richmond, Indiana, and grew up in nearby Liberty, has been a familiar face and voice on national motorsports coverage since 1979, when he was one of the first on-air employees of a new cable sports network, ESPN.

Motorsports broadcasting legend Bob Jenkins

Indiana University graduate Jenkins anchored ESPN’s weekly “Thunder” series national broadcasts of USAC Sprint and Midget races all over the Midwest. Jenkins also anchored hundreds of NASCAR broadcasts, forming a popular team with former drivers Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett, on ESPN and ABC from 1979 until 2000, including the first seven Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard races.

After several years as a reporter for the IMS Radio Network, Jenkins was “The Voice of the 500,” serving as chief announcer for the global broadcast of the race, from 1990-98.

Jenkins later anchored NTT IndyCar Series broadcasts on the Versus network (now NBCSN) and retired as an anchor in 2012. He continues to lend his voice to the IMS Public Address during events and is frequently a master of ceremonies for major racing functions.

“We’re extremely pleased that the IMS Hall of Fame voting panel have chosen Dan and Bob to be enshrined with so many legends of motorsport,” said Tony George, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation, which operates the IMS Museum. “Both of these men have never been shy about their love for IMS. Dan was more than a great father, husband, son and friend – we celebrate the man he was and his enthusiasm for life.

“Bob has brought to life some of the most memorable moments in IMS history – the closest ‘500’ finish in 1992 and Jeff Gordon’s victory at the inaugural Brickyard 400 immediately come to mind. His contributions to the Speedway are many.”

IMS Hall of Fame inductees are announced each year on “Founder’s Day,” March 20, the date in 1909 when the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Company was officially formed.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame honors and celebrates individual contribution to the sport of automobile racing at “The Greatest Race Course in the World.” It was founded in 1952 as the Auto Racing Hall of Fame under the auspices of the Contest Board of the American Automobile Association (AAA). The Hall of Fame was moved to the original Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum under the direction of then-Speedway president Anton “Tony” Hulman Jr. in 1962.

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About the IMS Museum: The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum is home to one of the world’s premier motorsports and automobile collections, with interpretive emphasis on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and its role as a global icon of sporting tradition and innovation.

Located inside the famed 2.5-mile IMS oval, the Museum is open 363 days a year (closed Thanksgiving and Christmas). It is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization and relies on support from admissions, tours, sponsorships, annual memberships and planned-giving for its operations, educational programming, restoration and preservation efforts, exhibits and events.

For more information on the IMS Museum, please visit www.indyracingmuseum.org, contact the Museum at 317-492-6784, or find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, March 14, 2019 – The 1960s – a thrilling decade of heroes and some of the most beloved cars in Indianapolis 500 history – will be saluted through a variety of exciting activities for fans during Legends Day presented by Firestone on Saturday, May 25 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Fan activities included with general admission to Legends Day presented by Firestone include:

– Autograph session with full 2019 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge field from 9-10am in Pagoda Plaza –

– Public drivers’ meeting starting at 10:25 a.m. adjacent to the Tower Terrace stands –

– Historic car laps on the historic IMS oval from 11:15 a.m.-12:20 p.m., including Indy cars from the 1960s –

– Autograph session with retired Indy 500 drivers, with legends from the 1960s expected to participate, from noon-2:30pm in the North Chalet –

– Historic cars on display in trackside garages, including vehicles from the 1960s –

General admission tickets for Legends Day presented by Firestone are available at IMS.com for $10, with kids 15 and under admitted free with an adult.

Legends Day general admission tickets do not include admission to the Firestone Legends Day Concert featuring multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning Zac Brown Band at 3:30 p.m. that afternoon inside Turn 4 at IMS. Tickets for that exciting show start at $35 and also are available at IMS.com.

“There have been many great eras in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, but few have captivated the fans like the 1960s,” IMS President J. Douglas Boles said. “It was a transformative decade of iconic drivers and machines that helped ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ reach a new level of global popularity. We can’t wait to share in this celebration with our loyal fans on Legends Day presented with Firestone, and we thank Firestone for its continued support of these events that create new magic and memories.”

The 1960s were one of the most transformative eras in the history of the world’s most prestigious auto race.

Indy icons such as Jim Rathmann, A.J. Foyt, Rodger Ward, Parnelli Jones, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Bobby Unser and Mario Andretti won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” during the 1960s, while legends such as Al Unser, Johnny Rutherford, Gordon Johncock, Dan Gurney, Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham, Mark Donohue and Lloyd Ruby all made their “500” debuts during the decade. Team Penske, which has won a record 17 Indianapolis 500’s, also made its IMS debut in 1969.

Great technological change also swept across the Speedway during the decade. The 1960s started with the continued dominance of the hulking front-engine roadster cars, such as Jones’ famous No. 98 Watson/Offy nicknamed “Calhoun” that he drove to victory in 1963. But the revolution of lithe, rear-engine formula cars also took root during the decade, with Clark’s victory in a Lotus-Ford in 1965 starting a streak of Indy 500 wins by rear-engine cars that continues to this day.

Famous cars powered by gas turbine helicopter engines also captivated fans with their distinctive sound and set speed records in the late 1960s. Andretti’s 1969 race-winning Hawk III/Ford included aerodynamic pieces built into the body that set the stage for the wings that drastically increased downforce and speeds in the early 1970s at the Speedway.

The 1960s theme of Legends Day presented by Firestone also dovetails with the 50th anniversary celebration of the sole victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” by the legendary Andretti, in 1969. Andretti will be featured on Bronze Badge and Silver Badge credentials and in the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge Official Program.

Tickets for 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge and the sixth INDYCAR Grand Prix are on sale now at IMS.com.

March 06, 2019 | Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum will honor 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner Mario Andretti and his illustrious racing career with the exhibit, “Mario Andretti: ICON,” presented by Shell V-Power NiTRO+, opening to the public Wednesday, May 1.

The exhibit is part of a comprehensive 50th anniversary celebration of Andretti’s dramatic victory at the 53rd running of the “500.” Andretti led 116 laps and delivered a popular, long-awaited victory for colorful car owner Andy Granatelli, despite having to race in a backup car and race-long engine overheating issues.

“Mario Andretti: ICON,” presented by Shell V-Power NiTRO+, will bring together many of the most significant cars in Andretti’s career at the IMS Museum – cars which also represent significant milestones in motorsports history given Andretti’s accomplishments. 

Andretti is the only driver in history to have won the Indianapolis 500, Daytona 500 and a Formula 1 World Championship. The Associated Press and RACER Magazine named him “Driver of the Century” in 2000, and he’s the only driver to earn “Driver of the Year” in three decades (1967, 1978, 1984).

The featured exhibits of “Mario Andretti: ICON,” are a full representation of the Nazareth, Pa., resident’s diverse career. A sampling of this can’t-miss exhibit includes:

  • The John Player Special Lotus Type 79-4, from the 1978 F1 World Championship run
  • The 1974 Vel’s Parnelli Jones team Formula 1 car
  • 1967 Dean Van Lines Brawner Hawk II Indy 500 pole-winner
  • 1967 Watson Leader Card Sprint car
  • The 1967 Daytona 500-winning car
  • A 1994 Lola T9400 from his “Arrivederci Mario” farewell season
  • The Horn Offenhauser Sprint Car, named “Baby,” from Andretti’s first Sprint car race.

Many other notable cars, firesuits, helmets and memorabilia will be part of “Mario Andretti: ICON,” presented by Shell V-Power NiTRO+. An audio tour featuring stories from Andretti, his longtime rivals A.J. Foyt, Al and Bobby Unser, and team owner Roger Penske will provide entertaining, behind-the-scenes insight into his career.

“Winning the Indianapolis 500 changed my life and Indy has been like a second home for my family for a very long time, so I’m very much looking forward to everything the Museum and the Speedway have planned in May,” said Andretti. “To be called an “icon” is extremely humbling, but the collection put together by the IMS Museum staff is phenomenal. I cannot wait to see this exhibit and share my story with the fans from around the world who will see it in the coming months.”

Andretti also won four IndyCar championships and major sports car events such as the 24 Hours of Daytona, and 12 Hours of Sebring – three times. But what truly sets Andretti apart from other racing legends is his incredible versatility. He regularly competed on dirt ovals, paved speedways and international road courses within a matter of days.

For instance, in the 12 weeks from Aug. 25-Nov. 17, 1968, he raced 12 times, in USAC Champ Cars and Stock Cars, F1 and the Can-Am series, earning two victories and seven top-five finishes. After qualifying on pole Sept. 7 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds’ dirt mile for the “Hoosier Hundred,” and finishing second, he flew all night to Monza, Italy, for the F1 Italian Grand Prix on Sept. 8 – only to learn another team had protested his inclusion in the GP, and he wouldn’t race, because he had raced within 24 hours!

Merchandise featuring the Mario Andretti 50th Anniversary logo will be available throughout the Month of May at the IMS Gift Shops around IMS, including those in the Museum, and online. Check the Indianapolis Motor Speedway website, www.ims.com, for a schedule of special events honoring Andretti during the 2019 Indianapolis 500.

“Mario Andretti: ICON,” presented by Shell V-Power NiTRO+ will be open through November 10.