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Andy Granatelli, architect of Petty-STP deal, dies at 90

December 29, 2013, David Caraviello,

Legacy of 'Mr. 500' lives on in NASCAR

He was one half of perhaps the most important sponsorship deal NASCAR has ever known, a man whose company would become as synonymous with Richard Petty as the driver's seven championships and ostrich-feathered cowboy hat. Everybody knew the King. But everybody in motorsports also knew Andy Granatelli.

They called him "Mr. 500," and he was a gravelly-voiced force of nature who through auto racing built STP into a company whose brand identity rivaled that of almost any other company in America. A relationship with Petty that began in a Chicago office in early 1972 blossomed into a game-changer for a sport whose teams had previously relied primarily on local or regional sponsors to foot the bill.

That is the NASCAR legacy left behind by Granatelli, who died Sunday at 90 of congestive heart failure in a hospital in Santa Barbara, Calif., his son told The Associated Press. Granatelli won two Indianapolis 500 titles as a car owner, once promoted stock car races at Chicago's Soldier Field, and as chairman of STP struck the $250,000 deal with Petty that changed the landscape of team sponsorship in NASCAR.

"Andy was one of the best at public relations and marketing in all of motorsports. He was ahead of his time and set the standard for selling his products," Petty said Monday. "We still enjoy our relationship with STP today and it was our meetings with Andy that started it all. He was really determined about how he wanted to market his product, and he never stopped wanting to get his way, but that's what made him successful, too."

"Before Andy Granatelli and STP arrived on the scene, cars were sponsored by Joe's Garage and Abby's Fish Shack and lot of just local people," Dean Kruse, a friend of Granatelli's, remembered in 2011. "Sometimes when they'd go to a race track 100 miles away, they'd go visit people and put their restaurants and gas stations on the cars. But there was no major money. ... [The STP deal] inspired other drivers, and [Bill] France, to approach bigger companies. Andy was the one who thought of that. He's a great innovator."

He was relentless, building STP through lavish promotion, backing Motor Racing Network broadcasts, being among the first to make "welcome race fans" banners. Reports from the time indicate Granatelli spent roughly $20 million a year to promote STP through auto racing, an amount that played a role in his eventual split with the company in 1973.

But by then, the Petty deal was already in place. It almost didn't happen -- Granatelli wanted his cars to be day-glow orange, as they always had been at Indianapolis, while Petty insisted on his team's namesake blue. A compromise was struck, resulting in car that often sported both colors. "Stick with me," Granatelli told Petty that day, with his typical swagger, "and one day you'll be as famous as I am."

Petty won the championship in his first season with STP, and would run a car backed by the familiar red oval up through his final race at NASCAR's top level, at Atlanta in 1992. Of his former partner, Granatelli had nothing but praise. "He was the best," Granatelli said of Petty in a 2011 interview. "He's a gentleman's gentleman. Nobody didn't like Richard."

And in NASCAR, nobody will forget Andy Granatelli. A decades-long deal that altered the scope of sponsorship -- paving the way for future agreements involving the likes of Jeff Gordon and DuPont, Dale Earnhardt and Goodwrench, Kevin Harvick and Budweiser, Jimmie Johnson and Lowe's, and countless others -- ensures that the memory of “Mr. 500” will continue to live on.


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