Editor's note: Lori Lovely has been a racing journalist since 1996, and has been actively involved in motorsports for most of her professional life.
Mario Andretti and I have more in common that our obvious love for the sport in which we each forged very different careers: we've both been kissed by the same man.
Mario's kiss occurred in 1969 when his team owner, Andy Granatelli, walloped a wet one on his cheek, elated that Andretti had just delivered the first Indy 500 win for both of them. The juicy smooches I got from Andy ensued every time I saw him in person, but mine were smack on the lips — and usually lasted longer than the more famous Victory Lane buss Mario received.
That was Andy. Never afraid to show his emotions, he once said, "That's just me. I can't help who I am. I was born supercharged."
Anthony Granatelli was born in Dallas in 1923, but grew up in the slums of Chicago with his brothers Vince and Joe after the stock market crash of 1929 wiped out the family business. Andy wasn't poor very long. His entrepreneurial skills revealed themselves in 1933 when he raised money by collecting empty soda bottles during the World's Fair.
After dropping out of school at age 14, he found steadier employment, working in a grocery store. Eager to earn more money and pursue their love of cars, Andy and his brothers became auto mechanics. They purchased a gas station in Chicago, which they renamed Andy's Super Service. Their revolutionary idea of having several mechanics simultaneously work on each car was the first of many innovations.
Grancor, their hot rod shop, was the next venture. That's when Granatelli began living up to the nickname he'd cherish, "Antonio the Great." Andy began racing — and then promoting —hot rods, midgets and events for the Hurricane Racing Association. Everything he learned prepared him for the big show, the Indy 500.
As he once said, "Indy was inevitable." In 1946 the brothers drove an 11-year-old racecar to Indianapolis. Their driver, Danny Kladis, qualified in the back of the field and ran out of fuel during the race, finishing 21st. Two years later, Andy tried it himself, but crashed during his qualifying run.
Nevertheless, it was the beginning of a lifelong love of Indianapolis, even when Andy's disappointments outnumbered his successes. As his son Vince said, "The thing that gave him the most gratification in his life was what he did at the Indianapolis 500."
Andy had vision. In 1958 he bought Paxton Products, a supercharger manufacturer that was losing money. Within seven months, it turned a profit. He sold the company to Studebaker in 1961. As part of the deal, he was made Studebaker's vice president, chief engineer and driver. A couple years later, he walked away from that position to take on STP, the oil treatment with which his name became synonymous.
It was his innovative marketing strategy that transformed the red, white and blue oval logo into an instantly recognizable iconic decal with the slogan "The Racer's Edge." It appeared everywhere, including on the "pajama" uniforms his crew wore at Indianapolis.
It wasn't just his STP attire that shook up motor racing's establishment. He introduced mechanical change. From 1961 to 1965, he entered cars with supercharged V-8 engines, whose horsepower of 837 trampled the competitors' 450 horses.
But it was his 1967 entry that made people sit up and listen: the "whoosh mobile," powered by a turbine engine and 80 percent fewer parts than the conventional piston-driven power plant. Parnelli Jones led 171 laps in it and looked like a sure bet to win — until three laps from the finish, when a $6 transmission ball bearing broke.
The car was so dominant that the following year the United States Auto Club enacted a new rule to reduce turbine power by one-third. Undeterred, Andy entered a car for Joe Leonard, who led until eight laps to go, when a gear broke in the fuel pump shaft.
Additional restrictive regulations put an end to the turbines, but not to Andy's determination to win the biggest race in the world. His dream came true in 1969 when Mario won in a year-old car after crashing his four-wheel-drive Lotus in practice. Andy won again in the tragedy-marred 1973 race with driver Gordon Johncock, but it was that joyous moment in 1969 that changed everything.
He had conquered Indy. The flamboyant entrepreneur who rose to fame and fortune as the CEO of STP Motor Oil Company had earned the moniker "Mister 500" he wore so proudly and used so often, from the title of his autobiography to his email address.
Andy was already a legend by the time I met him at a hot rod show, where he was about to add yet another award to his long list of honors. He's been inducted into two dozen automotive, racing and business halls of fame, including the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and, of course, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame.
A millionaire many times over, he had already made his mark on the sport — many marks, in fact. In addition to his success with open wheel cars, his production cars set more than 400 world land-speed and endurance records. Between 1972 and 1981, Richard Petty won four NASCAR series championships and four Daytona 500s in cars Andy and STP sponsored. A genius at promotion, whether it was auto stunt shows, stock car races, hot rod races, STP, the Indianapolis 500 or himself, he changed the way the game was played.
He showed me how he played the game when we worked on a few projects together. He combined tireless energy, persistence, attention to detail, unwavering confidence and unflagging positivity, using his knowledge of the sport and of people to achieve success.
That's it. That's how he did it. That's how he won races, turned failing companies into profitable ventures and became a mogul of motor racing. He understood — and loved — both motor racing and people. It was the key to his success.
His had good instincts. He believed people wanted to be happy. The single most important thing I learned from working with Andy was to send a positive message. He carefully controlled every communication, scrutinizing each word; anything with the hint of negativity was transformed into a more affirmative translation. Subtle distinctions made a powerful impact. It gave me a fresh perspective and I keep Andy's example in mind when I write.
That's not to say that Andy didn't tell it like it was. We enjoyed many hours of comparing notes about race cars, drivers and sanctioning bodies. Andy kept his finger on the pulse of all forms of motor racing throughout his life and offered great insights. I believe he could have led the IRL and CART out of "the split" and rebuilt American open wheel racing. No one had a better grasp of the situation and of the personalities involved than Andy.
Andy read people. If he liked you, you became part of his entourage for life. He was a loyal and generous friend. He called me frequently, sent little gifts and invited me and my husband to his legendary dinner parties, where I was introduced to other Granatelli devotees, including drivers Parnelli Jones and Paula Murphy.
Andy was ahead of his time in supporting women's rights. Back in the Studebaker days of 1963, he put Murphy in an Avanti on the Salt Flats at Bonneville, where she set more than 360 production car records. Thanks to Andy, Murphy was the first woman to drive a race car at the Speedway. She ran test laps of over 100 mph in a supercharged Studebaker Novi, another Granatelli innovation.
My turn to introduce Andy to a friend came when Ingrid Newkirk, founder and CEO of PETA, asked me to suggest someone from the world of motor racing to contribute to her book, One Can Make a Difference. He agreed immediately; it was another marketing opportunity.
In typical Granatelli fashion, his chapter is titled "Just Pick Yourself Up ... and Start All Over Again." Persistence is another of Andy's legacies. He never gave up. That's his motto, in fact. His inimitable will to succeed is the theme of his rags-to-riches story.
But what I'll remember most about this larger-than-life character is what a big heart he had. The list of charities Andy supported was almost as long as the list of accolades he'd received. He even insisted his entourage contribute to charity.
He loved people. He loved a good party; heck, he was the life of the party! He loved racing. He loved Indy.
And I am privileged to say he loved me. I don't know how he greeted Mario after that kiss in 1969, but every time we spoke, he told me he loved me. Every time we met, he landed another sloppy kiss on me. Every card, letter and email was signed "Siempre amore."
I spoke with Andy a few weeks before he passed away last December. He was recovering from a fall, but feeling good and looking forward to May. Indy won't be the same without Mister 500, but Andy's indelible spirit will continue to provide inspiration and he will always live in my heart. I love you, too, Andy. Siempre.