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Along with brothers Vince and Joe, Andy first worked as an auto mechanic and 'speed-shop' entrepreneur, modifying engines such as the 'flathead' Ford into racing-quality equipment. During World War II, he became a promoter of automobile racing events, such as the "Hurricane Racing Association," which combined racing opportunities for up-and-coming drivers with crowd-pleasing theatrics. Hurricane events, according to Granatelli in his autobiography They Call Me Mister 500, included drivers who were experts at executing—and surviving—roll-over and end-over-end crashes, and also an ambulance that not only got caught up into the race but also ejected a stretcher (with a dummy on it) into the way of the racers.
In 1946, the three brothers entered the first of several Indianapolis 500's, as the Grancor racing team. They did their own mechanical work, and brought innovations like fully independent suspension, yet never made it to "Victory Lane." In 1948, Andy decided to try to qualify as a driver, and nearly did so, but a horrendous crash during his qualifying run ended that part of his career.
Granatelli eventually became very visible in the racing world in the 1960s as the spokesman for STP oil and gasoline treatment products, appearing on its television and radio advertisements as well as sponsoring racecars. He clad his pit crews in white coveralls with the oval STP logo scattered all over them, and once wore a suit jacket with the same STP-laden design.
His cars became a significant presence at the Indianapolis 500. While he first gained notoriety by re-introducing the legendary Novi, his most famous entries were his turbine-powered cars in 1967 and 1968. In both years, he endured the excruciating frustration of seeing probable race-winners fail near the end; Joe Leonard's breakdown in the Lotus 56 with 10 laps remaining in 1968 had been topped the previous year when Parnelli Jones, leading comfortably with just three laps to go, suffered the failure of a six dollar transmission bearing in the STP-Paxton Turbocar and retired, handing a sure victory to A.J. Foyt.
He was finally rewarded with an Indianapolis 500 winner in 1969. After his innovative Lotus 4-wheel-drive car was destroyed in practice upon establishing itself as one of the most dominants cars to date, his driver Mario Andretti, nursing the burns from the Lotus crash, won at the wheel of a year-old backup car. Before Andretti could be traditionally kissed in 'Victory Lane' by the Queen of the "500 Festival," Granatelli got there first, and his joyful kiss on Andretti's cheek is one of the 500's most memorable images.
He fielded cars in the Indy 500 until 1991.
He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2001. Granatelli was inducted in the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame in 2011.
One of the last things Rocky Marciano did before his death was a car commercial. The world heavyweight champion (1952–1956) was on a visit to Chicago. He was coming from a dinner at Granatelli's home where he reportedly gave Granatelli's son boxing lessons after he was being picked on in school. Marciano died hours later in a plane crash.
Andy Granatelli was famous for purchasing the small automotive repair chain Tuneup Masters. He renamed the company "Andy Granatelli's Tuneup Masters" and opened locations in Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah. This was done largely through the acquisition of other small automotive chains. The company was never franchised and remained privately held until the late 1980s, when it was sold to Cardis (Carquest Autoparts). Cardis, a Cerritos-based distributor and retailer of automotive parts, bought TuneUp Masters from Granatelli's group in a cash and stock deal then valued at up to $53 million, with at least $40 million paid in cash. At the time of sale they had approximately 150 stores. Andy followed the marketing success of his STP decal branding by affixing the TM decal to every car serviced. The chain was famous for offering complete automotive tune-ups for $49.95, flat rate, with no extra charges for parts. This was a popular price and led to tremendous growth throughout the 1980s. Eventually the chain was sold, probably due to the increasing complexity of cars, and the difficulty of offering comprehensive service for such a low price. The business model was changed from flat-rate to a base flat-rate, with additional charges for a list of add-ons such as air filters. This business model was much less effective, because the cost to customers rapidly increased.
STP, the engine oil additive which Granatelli made famous, stands for "Scientifically Treated Petroleum", according to Granatelli's autobiography, They Call Me Mister 500. A common STP slogan has been, "STP, The Racer's Edge".
Granatelli was the man responsible for the STP sponsorship of racecar driver Richard Petty. The 30-plus-year sponsorship almost did not happen because Granatelli wanted the car painted solid red. Petty was adamant that they team would use the Petty Blue they were known for. An agreement was reached that the car would be half red and half blue. When Petty was given the contract there was a line that said Petty would receive an extra $50,000 on top of the $250,000 if he would paint the entire car red. Petty crossed out the line and put RP beside of it, saying he was not going to stop using his signature blue. After having much success sponsoring Petty, Granatelli made a deal with Petty that as long as he drove a race car STP would sponsor him, the longest sponsorship in the history of NASCAR.