UPDATE (7:58 p.m. ET): J. Douglas Boles, the president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, has issued the following statement regarding the death of Andy Granatelli this afternoon:
“Andy Granatelli – known appropriately as ‘Mister 500’ – understood better than anyone the spirit and challenge of the Indianapolis 500 and 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 including his famous turbine that dominated the 1967 Indianapolis 500, the Lotus 56 of 1968, and giving the great Mario Andretti a kiss on the cheek in victory lane after his 1969 win. Our thoughts and prayers are with Andy’s family, friends and legion of fans.”
Andy Granatelli (pictured, from 2010), former CEO of the STP motor oil company and one of the more notable innovators in the history of the Indianapolis 500, has passed away at the age of 90.
According to the Associated Press, his son, Vince, confirmed that he died of congestive heart failure earlier today in a hospital in Santa Barbara, California.
A member of multiple racing Halls of Fame, Granatelli was a significant figure for the “500,” especially in the late 1960s and 1970s. In the 1967 and 1968 races, he fielded radical, turbine-powered cars that did well but ultimately lost out in both races.
In ’67, Parnelli Jones lost a potential win with only a few laps to go when a transmission bearing failed and forced him to retire. Then in ’68, Joe Leonard suffered a fuel pump shaft failure while leading and also had to retire in the final moments.
But in 1969, Granatelli finally had his day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as Mario Andretti, driving with a more conventional engine, took his STP-backed No. 2 machine to victory over Dan Gurney.
Granatelli expressed his appreciation by kissing Andretti on the cheek in Victory Lane, creating one of the most beloved images in “500” history. Andretti has tweeted the following on Granatelli’s death this evening:
Four years later, in 1973, Granatelli would earn a second and final “500” win as a car owner thanks to driver Gordon Johncock.
“The thing that gave him the most gratification in his life was what he did at the Indianapolis 500,” Vince Granatelli told the AP.
But while Granatelli made an impact on the track, he did the same off of it as well by making STP one of the most well-known automotive brands in the world. In addition to serving as the product’s spokesman, Granatelli was instrumental in bringing STP on as a sponsor for NASCAR’s “King,” Richard Petty.
After a brief disagreement over what color Petty’s car would be (Granatelli wanting his STP day-glo red, Petty wanting his traditional ‘Petty blue’), a compromise was struck with both colors set to be used on the car.
The final result was one of the most iconic paint jobs in all of American motorsports, and to this day, Petty’s partnership with STP continues even though he ended his driving career in 1992. It is considered one of the most important sponsorship deals in NASCAR history.
Granatelli also served as a promoter of racing events during World War II, and is remembered especially for his work as president of the Hurricane Racing Association, a group that fielded both hot rod and stock car events at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Granatelli’s family and friends at this time.