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Keeping It Off the Wall
by Ed Donath

Slicker’n STP
Original publication date: June 18, 2000

[Editor’s Note: Since the beginning of the open wheel war, there has been a seemingly endless parade of unification ideas. They all have made about as much sense as any other—that is no sense. Thus, this particular Donath rant pulled out of the archives, is as meaningful now as it was back in 2000.]

Athens, NY—STP sold for 59 cents-a-can in the late Sixties when Andy Granatelli, the company’s founder, doubled as an Indy car racing team owner. I was a high school student during that era and was just beginning to pay attention to motorsports. Two vivid memories of the colorful and demonstrative, if not overexposed, Granatelli have always stuck in my mind.

The first is of STP’s president doing his own TV commercials. Granatelli’s meaty hands were the focus of a classic TV spot in which Andy tried in vain to grip the business end of a large screwdriver that he had just dipped into a can of STP. There was no way that his powerful-looking paws could clamp around the “friction-proofed” tool.

Back then, guys who weren’t even trying to get their engines to run smoother still felt the need to display those requisite oval STP stickers on the quarter windows and bumpers of their rides. Part peer pressure and part Standard Temperature/Pressure, STP stickers—like the product itself—were one of the all-time great marketing gimmicks.

My mind’s other picture of Granatelli is the one in which he’s planting a huge kiss on Mario Andretti’s cheek during Mario’s singular visit to Indy’s Victory Lane in 1969. Mario had piloted the marketing wiz’ STP Special. It’s funny how everyone in those old pictures, including Mario, looks like they used Andy’s lube product for hair tonic.

But lately there has been cause to worry that the capacity for clear thinking, let alone great marketing, has begun slipping through Andy Granatelli’s grasp like a lubed-up screwdriver. Andy’s recent comments at an annual gathering of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association have spurred that suspicion.

“I have a solution to the IRL/CART feud,” Granatelli pontificated. “IRL would run only oval races as they do now, but would pick up all of CART’s oval tracks since CART isn’t doing well on oval tracks. CART should run only road courses.”

Andy went on to tout the benefits and byproducts of his re-unification solution—the belief that simplification of car setup would bring costs down which, in turn, will make sponsors and team owners very happy. Sure, and pour a bottle of STP into those stock-block IRL engines and watch ‘em do 500 miles with ease.

The problem is that in Andy’s wacky racing world—using the 2000 CART and IRL schedules—CART would lose nine events, reducing its season to an 11-race program. IRL, on the other hand, would double its race program and its nine current races would suddenly become 18.

Even if team owners and track promoters are amenable to such radical changes, what makes Granatelli the Indy shill think that sponsors would trip over each other to sign up for his proposed 18-race oval deal? After all, f-inheritor’s most successful teams have struggled to find enough sponsorship for the current quorum of events.

“The best part of my proposal is that CART and IRL don’t have to merge now or in the future but they could at any time if and when they work things out. Meanwhile, they would not be destroying open-wheel racing. If they want to merge, that’s fine. If they want to talk to each other fine. If they don’t want to talk to each other, that’s fine,” is the way Granatelli summed-up his marketing plan.

This, sadly, is incredible drivel from the genius who put engine additives on the map and enabled latter day slick-stuff marketeers to charge as much as fifty bucks-a-bottle for STP-like magic potions. Did Granatelli truly believe he had made sense to the gathered media people with this kind of gibberish?

To be charitable, and until I can prove otherwise, let’s just say that Granatelli’s mental lapse might have been caused by a mischievous colleague of mine substituting some STP for the olive oil in Andy’s salad dressing.

But don’t look at me. Since the CART vs. IRL writers’ food fight broke out in 1996 I never get invited to slick affairs like this one anymore.

Copyright © 2004 by Ed Donath and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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