A HALF-CENTURY LATER, IT’S among the most indelible images in American sports. Mario Andretti, a 29year-old two-time USAC national champion, had just won the 1969 Indianapolis 500 and pulled his turbocharged FordV-8-powered Hawk III onto Victory Lane. There, Andy Granatelli, the car’s owner and CEO of STP, looking like a ripe tomato in his STP blazer, planted a sloppy kiss on Andretti’s cheek. That kiss changed American racing.
“He was so dynamic and visible in every way,” Andretti recalls about the Dallas-born Granatelli. “And he certainly paved the way for other brands to follow suit, who saw what he did with a product that’s, you know, not 100 percent necessary. He created a euphoria about STP so that you could not do without it.” And he’d done it by using racing to raise the visibility of his product.
Racing in the ’60s was about manufacturers. Ford spent millions to win at Le Mans and developed engines and/or models of its production cars for open wheel, stock-car, and drag racing. Chrysler’s specialized 426 Hemi engine was an instant legend. And GM built the Camaro Z/28 to win the SCCA’s Trans-Am series. What little consumer-product advertising existed was muted and often temporary.
Granatelli and his brothers, Joe and Vince, were racing entrepreneurs. And they had been running cars at Indianapolis as far back as 1946, earning reputations as brilliant, intuitive