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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

May 17, 1987|SHAV GLICK | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — 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.

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.

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