I really enjoy stories about mid-twentieth century racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and They Call Me Mister 500 is one of the best. It chronicles the events in a 23-plus year saga of the Granatelli brothers, Joe, Andy, and Vince, in their attempts to win the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Author Andy Granatelli describes their journey from a speed shop in suburban Chicago in 1946 all the way to winning the 500 in 1969.
Jimmy Clark’s 1966 STP Gas Treatment Special
Copyright ©1966 Studebaker Corporation
All three Granatelli brothers probably had gasoline in their veins as they grew up during the Depression hawking their automotive knowledge along Halsted Street in Chicago. All of their experience hopping-up cars led them to establish Grancor, a speed shop and one of the premier mail-order speed equipment businesses in the country in 1944. Plus, they had their eyes on a grand prize – the Indy 500 trophy.
A quote from Andy explains the elixir of the Indianapolis 500: “Indy is a special brand of hypnotism, and it sets up an impossible dream. And, in all this, I am like everyone else. I love it; I hate it. Yet, it draws me as it does the rest of them.” So, in 1946, the brothers modified a 1935 front-wheel-drive Miller-Ford and qualified in 33rd position for their first 500. Driver Danny Kladis improved his position to near the top 10 only to drop out of the race due to a pit stop error.
Most of my memories of the Granatelli racers are of the mid-1960s. I can remember Jim Hurtubise starting in a Granatelli-entered Novi on the outside of the front row in the 1963 race and setting a new track record while leading the first lap. Jimmy Clark drove the STP Gas Treatment Special Lotus-Ford to second place in 1966. Parnelli Jones was leading the 1967 race in the STP Turbine Car when a six-dollar bearing failed and sidelined him on lap 197. Finally in 1969, Mario Andretti drove the STP Oil Treatment Special to win the Indianapolis 500. The Granatelli brothers dreams of winning were finally realized after thinking about and working toward it for over 30 years.
I thoroughly enjoyed how Andy Granatelli uses personal stories to weave you into the story. I found it to be a riveting rags-to-riches tale of how the Granatelli brothers grew up during the Depression and later enjoyed success at the pinnacle of American auto racing.
Peruse They Call Me Mister 500 at Amazon.com