Former STP CEO, Indy 500-winning owner Andy Granatelli dead at 90 (VIDEO)

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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.

Formula One: Haas fighting for ‘best of the rest’ in Year 3

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The third season for Haas F1 has been its best, even if it’s been a bit bizarre.

Formula One’s only U.S.-based team has scored the most points in its young history and overcome some serious bumbles early to compete with – and beat – some of the legacy team names in F1.

Haas heads into this week’s U.S. Grand Prix in a tough season-ending fight with Renault for the “best of the rest” title among the teams outside of the Big Three of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.

“It’s the best battle of the field. It’s very tight. It’s going to go to the last lap of the race in Abu Dhabi, while I think the world championship is probably going to go this weekend,” said Haas’ French driver Romain Grosjean, who signed with the team before their first season.

“To rise as quickly as we’ve done hasn’t been seen in Formula One, I don’t think,” said his Danish teammate Kevin Magnussen.

Haas launched with a surprise in 2016 and has been rising ever since.

Haas scored points in its first race in 2016, and in 2017 had both cars finish in the top 10 for the first time at Monte Carlo, the biggest race on the annual calendar. A strong run over the last 10 races of this season has Haas just eight points behind Renault in the race for fourth place with four races left.

The 2018 season looks to finish better than it started.

After Haas scored the team’s best-ever qualifying at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, neither car finished the race. Magnussen and Grosjean both left pit stops on consecutive laps with unsecured wheels and had to stop. The team was fined for sending the cars out in unsafe conditions.

“That was extremely, extremely disappointing” Magnussen said “We are still showing signs of immaturity at certain moments.”

Other problems followed. A month later in Azerbaijan, Grosjean fought his way from the back row into sixth before he drove straight into the wall while following a safety car. Grosjean felt horrible, but blamed one of the season’s most bizarre incidents on an errant flip of a steering wheel switch that he said upset the car’s brake balance and sent him spinning into the barrier.

More valuable points were lost in Italy when the floor of Grosjean’s car was deemed illegal and he was disqualified from sixth place. Haas appealed and is awaiting a decision on points that would close the gap with Renault with a stroke of a pen. Despite the gaffes, Grosjean has finished in the top 10 four times in the last seven races.

“I got eight points stolen in Monza,” Grosjean said. “The results are coming with the kind of performance Haas signed me for in the first place.”

After the problems, Grosjean admitted it was a relief to extend his contract with Haas for 2019. He and Magnussen will be teammates again.

“When I joined, I didn’t know what Haas was going to be. I think they gave me some credit for that when I had a tough time earlier this year and turned things around, Grosjean said.

Haas Team Principal Guenther Steiner said he and team owner Gene Haas saw value in staying with drivers who knew the Haas cars.

“Just to change a driver for the same level of skill, you go backward,” Steiner said. “There’s not a lot of better drivers out there, so why should we change them? Stay the same and mature quicker.”

The question now is how high can Haas go?

The Haas business model – which has drawn complaints from its middle-of-the-pack rivals – has it buying parts and engines, most notably from Ferrari. It keeps costs down but creates a performance ceiling that Haas is unlikely to break through.

“We are not developing parts for our car,” Grosjean said. “So far it hasn’t been a problem. If one day we start to beat Ferrari, it’s not going to work.”

Steiner said a top three finish isn’t realistic, not against teams with much bigger budgets, development and staff.

“The first year we didn’t finish last, the second year we didn’t finish last and now we are fighting for fourth. We must be doing something right,” Steiner said. “How do we get to that next step? Where do we go from here? Right now, there is no answer.”

That can be the frustrating part of an otherwise very good season.

A taste of success begs for more. For the 26-year-old Magnussen, he can be good with Haas, maybe even the “best of the rest.” But that’s a career definition no driver wants.

“It’s been six years since I won a race in motorsport,” Magnussen said. “I miss winning. Badly.”