MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Vince Granatelli may have lived in the shadows of his more famous father, Andy Granatelli, but he played a very important role in IndyCar racing during his distinguished career.
Vince Granatelli died Saturday morning from pneumonia and COVID-19 at the age of 78. The news was confirmed by his former driver and long-time friend Arie Luyendyk, who has been in close contact with the Granatelli family.
“He was not only a great team owner I drove for, but a great friend who treated me like his son to this day,” Luyendyk told SPEED SPORT. “We always got together on birthdays. That is the most sad thing about his passing is for his wife Marie.”
Vince was part of a racing family from Chicago that included his father Andy and his uncles “Big” Vince Granatelli and Joe Granatelli. They were part of the famed NOVI Racing team in the 1950s and 1960s. Andy became the front man for an oil additive known as Scientifically Treated Petroleum (STP) and Andy’s ability as a marketer made STP one of the most famous brands in racing beginning in the 1960s.
Vince and Joe Granatelli worked alongside Andy Granatelli on his Indy car teams and helped develop the famed STP Turbine that made its Indianapolis 500 debut in 1967. The younger Vince Granatelli worked in the background as a mechanic.
Racing’s old guard were unprepared for the Turbine engine with famed driver Parnelli Jones behind the wheel. The combination dominated the race in 1967 before an inexpensive engine bearing broke with Jones in the lead with just four laps remaining.
A.J. Foyt went on to win the third of his four Indianapolis 500s after Jones dropped out of the race.
Andy Granatelli was back with another Turbine in 1968 with Joe Leonard dominating the race before a late-race flame-out of the turbine dropped him out in the closing laps. Bobby Unser went on to win the first of his three Indianapolis 500s in that race.
The Granatelli’s finally won the Indianapolis 500 the following year when Mario Andretti drove a year-old Brawner Hawk to victory in 1969 after he crashed an all-wheel drive Lotus in practice before qualifications. The Brawner Hawk began overheating badly early in the race, but it kept running and powered Andretti to his only Indianapolis 500 win.
“I cherished our friendship for well over 50 years,” Mario Andretti told SPEED SPORT Saturday. “I remember with fondness working together on the March F1 program in the early 1970s.
“My sincere condolences to the entire Granatelli family.”
The Granatelli family won a second Indy 500 in 1973 when Gordon Johncock won a race filled with rain and tragedy as two drivers and a crew member on Andy Granatelli’s team were killed during the month of May. Dozens of spectators were badly burned in a crash at the start of the race when a car nearly went through the fence, spewing massive amounts of hot methanol into the crowd.
As Andy Granatelli began to transition out of racing, the younger Vince Granatelli purchased Team Cotter from Dan Cotter and became a car owner in 1987 with Roberto Guerrero as the driver.
In the team’s second race, Guerrero drove the car to victory at Phoenix Raceway.
Guerrero entered the 1987 Indianapolis 500 as one of the favorites along with Andretti to win the race. Andretti had the famed Chevrolet Indy engine and dominated the race, leading by as much as two laps before the engine quit on lap 180, 20 laps from an apparent victory.
That put Guerrero and Vince Granatelli’s car into the lead, but when the team made its final pit stop, the engine stalled several times as the crew frantically tried to get it to refire. By the time the engine came back to life, Al Unser had unlapped himself and went on to become just the second driver to win the Indianapolis 500 four times in their career.
Unfortunately, earlier in that race, a wheel came off Tony Bettenhausen’s race car and hit the front nose of Guerrero’s machine at full speed. That punted the wheel into the crowd where it struck and killed spectator Lyle Kurtenbach, who was sitting in the very top row of the grandstands.
Later that season, Guerrero crashed during a test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. On the final lap of the session, Guerrero’s suspension failed, the car crashed, and the right front tire struck Guerrero in the head. He was unconscious for a full week and despite returning to racing, he never came close to the promise and potential that he displayed prior to the crash.
Vince Granatelli Racing had Guerrero and two-time Indy 500 winner Gordon Johncock on the team in 1988. Al Unser would replace Guerrero before the end of the season. After the 1988 season, Granatelli was critical of CART for making the Cosworth engines lower the boost from 48 inches to 45 inches and he threatened to withdraw from the series.
Tom Sneva was the team’s full-time driver in 1989 and John Andretti drove a second car in the Indy 500. The team featured Kevin Cogan and Didier Theys in 1990. Prior to the 1991 season, Vince Granatelli merged the team with Doug Shierson Racing and rebranded the operation Uno/Granatelli Racing. Luyendyk, who won the 1990 Indianapolis 500 for Doug Shierson, was the team’s primary driver and won the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix, leading 129 of 200 laps.
At the Indy 500 that year, Luyendyk’s car was sponsored by RCA.
Despite an issue with Uno owner and co-team owner Bob Tezak, Luyendyk drove Vince Granatelli’s car to a victory at Nazareth Speedway at the end of the 1990 season. Luyendyk finished sixth in the standings, but despite the team’s success, Vince Granatelli shut the team down due to a lack of funding.
Vince Granatelli would frequently attend CART races and the Indianapolis 500 in the ensuing years and remained popular in the paddock.
Vince Granatelli’s “Uncle Vince” remains alive at 94 and lives in Florida.