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Andy Granatelli, race car owner and Route 66 Hall of Famer, dies December 29, 2013

Posted by Ron Warnick in History, People, Sports.
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Andy Granatelli, who became famous as an owner of a winning Indianapolis 500 race car and as a CEO of STP motor oil, died Sunday in Santa Barbara, Calif., at age 90 of congestive heart failure, according to varying media outlets, including the New York Times.

Granatelli also was inducted into the Illinois Route 66 Hall of Fame in 2003 and the Cruisin’ Hall of Fame at the Route 66 Rendezvous in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2002.

He is most well-known for his racing career, which the Associated Press summarized as follows:

Andy Granatelli’s cars nearly won the Indianapolis 500 in 1967 and ’68 with turbine engines. He broke through in 1969 with Mario Andretti driving his winning car with a conventional engine. Granatelli kissing Andretti on the cheek in Victory Lane is one of the most famous images in Indy history.

In 1973, Gordon Johncock gave Granatelli another Indy 500 victory.

But, as late author Tom Teague explained, Granatelli started his racing and entrepreneurial career on Route 66 in the Chicago area:

Andy’s first trip on 66 came when the family drove to Chicago to live with relatives. Their apartment was at 5200 North Winthrop. During the Chicago World’s Fair of 1933-34, the first great festival of the Route 66 era, Andy and his brothers would walk all the way downtown to collect soda pop bottles discarded by fairgoers. Then they’d trudge back home and “return” the bottles to neighborhood grocers.

In 1937 when work proved too scarce in Chicago, Vincent Granatelli drove his family to California. There he hoped to find farm work. Their car was an over-the-hill ’32 Oldsmobile as heavily laden as any Okie family’s. When the job hunt was unsuccessful, the family returned to Chicago. There Andy delivered bags of coal up the steps of tenements. With Joe and Vince he sold vegetables door to door along North Halsted from the trunk of a Buick. The three also become expert mechanics. Often they would fix cars right on the street. If they needed to use a power tool, they’d just knock at the door of a first-floor apartment and ask to pass a cord in. Later Andy would attend Weaver Alignment School in Springfield. But essentially his formal education ended when he was 14. All the rest came from under the hood or behind the wheel.

When a housing shortage hit the west coast early in World War II, Andy and Joe set record after record for towing house trailers from Chicago to Glendale, California, on 66. Joe drove a 1940 Mercury and Andy had a 1940 Ford. Both cars had souped up engines and could hit 100 miles an hour with a trailer in tow. Often Andy would get right behind Joe and ride in his slipstream. For a few extra dollars they took on soldiers and other people as passengers. But Andy can’t remember any of those folks lasting past St. Louis.

Granatelli started racing cars after World War II, including at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. He also brought hot-rod racing all over the Chicago area. Teague wrote:

The Indianapolis 500 proved to be the magnificent obsession in Andy’s life. He won it twice as an owner. But Route 66 also continued to weave in and out of his life. He drove or sponsored races in more than a dozen cities and towns along the road. He had his famous but illfated Novi engines built in Glendale, California, on 66. He ran the STP Corporation from Des Plaines, just a few miles north of 66. He’s worked and lived in the 66 cities of Chicago, Joliet, St. Louis, Los Angeles, and Santa Monica. He even got married near the start of 66 and spent his wedding night in Joliet.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway produced this tribute to Granatelli before his death:

The Speedway issued this statement today:

“Andy Granatelli – appropriately known to many of us 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,” said J. Douglas Boles, IMS. “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.”

More about Granatelli can be found at his Wikipedia page.

(Hat tip to Pat Bremer; image of Granatelli’s 1969 Indy 500-winning car by Daniel Incandela via Flickr)

Comments»

1. Steve Davis - December 30, 2013

His book, “They Call Me Mister 500″, is certainly worthwhile reading. He very narrowly missed death more than once, and lived to the ripe age of 90. Quite the man.


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