SEMA News—April 2014
By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Petersen Archives
You could say that much of Anthony “Andy” Granatelli’s life had been leading up to this day, this moment. The man known as “Mr. 500” seemed irresistibly drawn to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1946, he and his brothers Vince and Joe sponsored a car in the first Indy 500 after World War II but watched it sputter to a stop, out of fuel, before completing the race. Two years later Andy tried driving at Indy but crashed hard in practice. Grancor, the speed shop and warehouse-distribution business the brothers formed in Chicago, sponsored Indy roadsters in the ’50s, and the Granatellis brought Novi roadsters back to run the Brickyard for several years in the early and mid ’60s.
While campaigning the Novis, the Granatelli brothers were also working on a project to win at Indy using turbine power. And they came so close. Parnelli Jones was within three laps of winning the 1967 race in the futuristic, four-wheel-drive, turbine-powered STP Oil Treatment Special before a $10 transmission bearing failed, bringing the “whooshmobile” to a stop. The Granatellis came back to Indy in 1968 with another turbine-powered car but again had to watch a late-race lead disappear, this time due to a fuel pump failure.
For the 1969 race, the Granatellis returned to conventional piston power, commissioning a four-wheel-drive Ford/Lotus for driver Mario Andretti. During practice, Andretti crashed hard and suffered burns to his face when a wheel hub failed. Undaunted, he went on to qualify second fastest in a year-old backup car and led the race for most of its second half, despite an overheating engine and slipping clutch. He finished a full lap ahead of second-place Dan Gurney at an average speed of 156.867 mph.
It’s no wonder, then, that a jubilant Andy Granatelli, finally victorious at Indianapolis after so many years of trying, pushed his way up to Andretti in Victory Circle and planted the kiss seen ’round the world.
The iconic photo of the kiss was taken by Petersen Publishing photographer Bob D’Olivo. The original negative has long since disappeared from the Petersen photo archive, but we did find a print of the famous shot, as well as a proof sheet of the original photo job. Look closely at the frames and you can see Andretti waving to the crowd and Granatelli approaching him before smacking him on the cheek.
Granatelli passed away in December at age 90 due to heart failure. During his “supercharged” life (as he called it), he would famously turn two businesses into household names—STP and Tuneup Masters. He and his brothers set speed records on the dry lakes and Bonneville driving Paxton-supercharged cars. He himself turned over 241 mph at Bonneville at age 62. Could he have been any happier, though, than at this moment in May 1969?