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Indy Intro: Gentlemen, Start Your Kisses

Times Staff Writer

One of the more memorable moments in the Indianapolis 500 winner’s circle came in 1969, when car owner Andy Granatelli planted a kiss on driver Mario Andretti.

Two years earlier a gearbox problem with three laps remaining had kept Granatelli and driver Parnelli Jones out of the winner’s circle.

Granatelli was honored Saturday night at the 14th annual Paralysis Project of America sports legends awards dinner at the Omni Hotel, and he was introduced by Jones.

“One good thing [about not winning in 1967],” Jones said, “was that Andy didn’t get a chance to kiss me.”

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When Granatelli arrived at the lectern, the first thing he did was kiss Jones -- on the lips.

Trivia time: What was unique about the car Jones drove in the 1967 Indianapolis 500?

Andy is a dandy: Besides Granatelli, others honored at Saturday night’s charity affair were Bill Sharman, Bob Mathias, Eric Dickerson, jockey Earlie Fires and Channel 4’s Fred Roggin. Presenters, in addition to Jones, included John Wooden, Bob Seagren and Gary Stevens.

But it was Granatelli who stole the show. After kissing Jones, he pulled off another surprise by auctioning off four Indy 500 packages that included his personal tickets to this year’s race, pit passes and a pre-race dinner with celebrities such as Carol Burnett and Jay Leno.

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Each package went for $12,000, so in about five minutes Granatelli raised $48,000 for spinal cord injury research.

Money maker: Granatelli made the fuel and oil additive STP a household name. Said dinner emcee Al Michaels: “I never knew what STP did, but to this day I still buy it.”

Said Granatelli: “I’ll tell you what STP did. It made me a multimillionaire.”

Small-world story: Mathias and Sharman come from two California towns about 20 miles apart in the San Joaquin Valley. Mathias is from Tulare, Sharman from Porterville.

Sharman, a star in football, basketball, baseball, tennis, and track and field at Porterville High, told Mathias that as a junior in 1943 he beat Mathias’ older brother Gene to win the Tulare County shotput championship.

Sharman, careful not to sound as though he was bragging, said, “But I only won by about a quarter of an inch.”

Looking back: On this day in 1960, the U.S. Olympic hockey team scored six goals in the third period to defeat Czechoslovakia, 9-4, and win the gold medal at Squaw Valley, Calif.

Trivia answer: Jones’ car was turbine-powered. Rule changes made the turbine car obsolete.

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And finally: Another honoree at the Paralysis Project dinner was Roman Reed of Fremont, Calif., who in 1994, as a sophomore linebacker for Chabot College in Hayward, was paralyzed while making a tackle.

When it was his turn at the lectern, Reed, who earlier had posed for pictures, including one with Wooden, said, “I can’t believe the greatest coach in the history of sports asked me for my autograph.”

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Larry Stewart can be reached at larry.stewart@latimes.com.


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