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THE INDIANAPOLIS 500 : GRANATELLI NAME RETURNS TO INDY : It’s Vinnie, Andy’s Son, Who Is as Unobtrusive as His Father Is Flamboyant

Times Staff Writer

Second-generation drivers have become commonplace in automobile racing in the last few years, so why not a second-generation car owner?

Meet Vinnie Granatelli, son of Andy.

You won’t see Vincent Joseph Granatelli, 44, with STP decals plastered all over his clothing; you won’t see him waddling down pit row at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a trench coat; you won’t see him coming at you from TV commercials promoting himself more than his product; and you’re not likely to see him plant a giant-sized smooch on his winning driver in Victory Circle.

Vinnie, you see, is as quiet and unobtrusive as his father is flamboyant. Smaller, too.

When you live in the shadow of someone like Andy Granatelli--once named in a national poll as the most recognizable personality in American motor sports--there is little room for anyone else to project their own image.

So, after an absence of more than 10 years from the racing scene, Andy’s son, Vince, has set out to establish his own presence.

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Already, in one respect, he is years ahead of his father. It took Andy 23 years before one of his cars won a major race, the 1969 California 200 at Hanford Speedway, near Fresno. Vince saw his car win the second race in which it was entered, last month’s Checker 200 at Phoenix.

Father and son are alike in one respect, however, and that is self-assurance.

“I don’t want to sound immodest,” Vince said, “but I knew we would win some races this year. I didn’t know when, or how many, but I knew we’d win.”

Can you imagine trench-coat Andy even thinking he didn’t want to sound immodest?

Next Sunday, in the 71st Indianapolis 500, Vince would like to match one of his father’s accomplishments. After Mario Andretti won at Hanford in Andy’s car, the next race was the Indianapolis 500. Mario won that one, too.

Roberto Guerrero won in Vince’s car at Phoenix, and the next race is Indy.

“I don’t think there’s a car in the race with better credentials than we have,” Vince said. “Roberto proved he and the March were winners at Phoenix, and we’ve been working well. I think the race will turn out like qualifying--only a few will have the combination and be competitive.”

Guerrero will start fifth, from the middle of the second row, in a new March-Cosworth.

“Qualifying was a bittersweet day for us,” Granatelli said. “Fifth is nothing to be ashamed of, but we felt like we had a good chance for the pole, or at least the front row. Conditions played tricks on us.”

Guerrero qualified at 210.680 m.p.h.

“It’s still more than 20 spots better than we had at Phoenix,” Granatelli said. There, Guerrero started last before threading his way through the field to win impressively.

“These new cars are so touchy. Getting the right setup is like tuning in a long-distance station on the radio. You have it and all of a sudden it’s gone, and you’re never sure which way to turn, or how far to turn to find it again.

“A tiny change, maybe as little as an eighth-of-an-inch twist in the wing, can make a difference between night and day with today’s car. In the old days, we could make all sorts of changes, big changes, without losing the basic setup.”

This is Vince’s first year as a car owner, but he was a veteran campaigner as a crew chief before the Granatelli family quit racing in 1974.

“I was always around the team, working with my dad or Uncle Vince or Uncle Joe. I came back here for the first time in 1961 with the Novis, but we didn’t have a driver that year. In 1968, I got my first chance to run a crew. We owned the No. 60 Lotus turbine that Joe Leonard put on the pole that year.

“After Indy, Parnelli Jones took over the car, and I was his chief mechanic for the rest of the season. It was the first year the Granatellis ever ran the whole season. Until then, it was Indy or nothing.”

Vince had one full-time helper that season.

For his 1987 team, he has a crew of 18. In ’68 there was just one car, the turbine. This year he has five. Three are ’87 Marches--the Indy car, a road course car and a small oval track car, the one that won at Phoenix. The other two are 1986 model Marches for backup emergencies.

“Everything has changed, especially expenses, since I was here before,” Granatelli said. “The prices have gone up astronomically. Tires alone cost about $7,000 for two days of testing. I can remember when you could run a car for the entire month of May at Indianapolis for that kind of money.

“In the ‘70s, you could buy a good team for less than $100,000. Today it’s about twenty times that. A new March costs $180,000, add another $20,000 for preparation and $72,000 for a Cosworth engine and fuel management system. Now you’ve spent $272,000 and all you have is one car and one engine--with no driver, no spare parts and no backup.

“Drivers come high these days, too. I remember when drivers used to hang around, hat in hand, looking for a ride. You could make any kind of a deal. A top driver got about $50,000. Now they’re asking, and getting, between $200,000 and a million bucks. The sad thing is that some of those $200,000 drivers aren’t worth $6,000.”

Even with knowledge of all those expenses, Vince still longed to get back in the game. It was just a matter of time and circumstances.

One day in 1985, he drove down from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz., to a race at Phoenix International Raceway.

“For years, people would come up to me or my dad and ask us when we were going to come back. Finally, it just happened. I just wanted to try it again.”

It was too late to put a team together for 1986, so Vince spent the season going to races to find out what was happening. Toward the end of the year, Ralph Salvino, STP’s director of racing, told Vince that Dan Cotter, owner of the True Value team with Guerrero as the driver, wanted to sell his operation.

“Dan didn’t have the time to spend on the team and his business, too.” Granatelli said. “The more I looked at it, the better Dan’s deal looked. He had excellent facilities here, three acres right across the street from the Speedway, with 16,000 square feet of garage area.”

The address is 130 Gasoline Alley.

“The one thing not part of the deal was the driver. Roberto’s contract was up, but Dan helped me renegotiate with him. I’m not sure I would have made the deal if I couldn’t have had Guerrero, too.”

Running the team is no part-time job for Granatelli.

“You can’t run a team these days without being there hands on,” he said. “It’s a little scary, but it’s a full-time business. It’s a big challenge, to be gone more than 10 years and come back to a totally different atmosphere, but I think I can provide what’s needed to do it. That’s hard work, determination and the perseverance to last.”

And Roberto Guerrero. The slender Colombian, who now lives in San Juan Capistrano with his California-born wife, Katie, and their son, Marco, has a remarkable record in three years here. He has finished second, third and fourth, which is the best record for a driver’s first three 500s since Bill Holland had two seconds and a win in 1947-48-49.

“Roberto reminds me of Parnelli Jones the way he adapts to this track,” Granatelli said. “His style just seems to fit.

“Of all the drivers I have been associated with, Roberto is the best all around. He has the talent, mental attitude, desire and determination--and he’s so sensible and calm.

“When he qualified last week, he had all kinds of trouble in the four laps, but my uncles couldn’t believe how calm he was when he came in. Uncle Vince said he acted as if he’d just driven in from the parking lot.”

Granatelli was also impressed with the way Guerrero investigated him before signing.

“He called a lot of people he knew in Europe that I had worked with,” Granatelli said. “He had never heard of me and he wanted to check me out. That showed me how much he cares about his career.”

Vince had been Andretti’s crew chief when March made its first car for Formula One in 1974. Guerrero drove two years in Formula One after attending college in England, where he was an automotive engineering major.

The 1974 Grand Prix venture was Granatelli’s last racing activity until this year, but during the interlude he kept busy in allied endeavors.

He owned Pit Stop Service in Van Nuys, a high-performance garage where he also built high-speed cars. Among them was the LDS Camaro--a stock-body passenger car complete with custom upholstery and stereo--which his father drove a record 242 m.p.h. on the Bonneville salt flats.

It was a typical Granatelli incident in which reams of publicity were ground out about Andy’s driving, but very few knew that Vince had built the car.

“Andy’s the kind of a guy who likes to take over, we all know that, but with my Indy car team he hasn’t,” Vince said. “He realizes it’s my show and he doesn’t want to take any fun away from me.”

Andy and his wife, Dolly, were at Phoenix when Vince won his first race, but Andy didn’t go to the winner’s circle, even though just about everyone expected him to do so.

“I was really surprised Andy didn’t go down there and pose with Vinnie and the car, but to his credit, he didn’t,” Jones said.

That doesn’t mean that Vince doesn’t consult with his father from time to time.

“I would be foolish not to draw on his experience,” Vince said. “Sure, I check with him and he gives me advice when I ask for it. He has a lot of information he learned over the years and he has been very helpful.”

Andy is president of Tuneup Masters, with headquarters in Woodland Hills.

Vince has also called on another Indy veteran for help. Sonny Meyer, son of three-time Indy 500 winner Louis Meyer, came out of retirement to run the engine program for his cars.

Mo Nunn, who worked with Guerrero in Europe, is team manager. Last year, Nunn held the same position with Andretti’s Newman-Haas team.

“Racing, in many ways, is much like running any other business,” Granatelli said. “To be successful, you have to bring a great many pieces together so that they all mesh perfectly.”

Andy had two wins at Indianapolis, in 1969 with Andretti and in 1973 with Gordon Johncock, but Vince was not a part of either operation. In ’69, he was working with uncle Vince on Art Pollard’s car, and in ’73, he was chief mechanic for rookie Graham McRae of New Zealand.

“This will be my first Indianapolis 500 win,” Vince Granatelli said proudly as he watched his driver roll his iridescent day-glo red No. 4 car down pit row for another practice lap at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Isn’t that a beautiful sight?” he said, beaming like his daddy used to do.


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