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And Another Thing

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File | Associated Press
In this May 14, 1969, photo, car owner Andy Granatelli, center left, and driver Art Pollard, center rear, examine Granatelli's newest car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis. Granatelli died Sunday.

Granatelli: An icon passes

Andy Granatelli is why I'm an IndyCar guy. Or at least a big piece of why.

Connect the dots: It was Granatelli who brought the screaming-retinas red STP turbine to Indianapolis in 1967. That happens to also be the same year I first stepped foot in the place as an awed 12-year-old kid.

Oh, I didn't go there, on the second weekend of time trials that year, specifically to see Parnelli Jones whoosh around the track in the Day-Glo No. 40. But when Jones rolled the thing out for a practice run, and everyone in the stands went quiet to hear the sound of quiet, the place had me. It has me to this day.

So it's with more than a twinge of sadness I note Granatelli's passing, because it brings back a lot of memories. It's probably too much to say that Granatelli and his brothers made Indy what it was in the glory days of 1960s, but without them and their what-the-hell style, a whole lot of what Indy was in those days would be missing.

It wasn't just the turbines, both those of Jones' and the wedge-shaped model in 1968, although that's what they'll always be known for. With the possible exception of the brute, blaring Novi -- which the Granatellis also brought back to Indy in the early 1960s -- a more iconic race car has never existed. That the dimwits in USAC chose to legislate it out of existence is forever to their discredit.

People loved the turbines. Loved them. When they broke within sight of victory in both '67 and '68, a lot of the joy went out of the proceedings. And when Mario Andretti finally broke through and won for Granatelli in a backup conventional piston-engine racer ... well, Granatelli always said that as special as the moment was, he'd have traded it in a minute for one more chance to win with the turbine.

Me, too. I close my eyes now, and I can still see No. 40 whooshing past, the Day-Glo paint job lighting up the gloom of that day in a way no other race car has since. At the time, it represented the future and the spirit of innovation that made Indianapolis such a special place -- and if that spirit is largely dead there now, it remains a special place if for no other reason than those memories.

So, here's to ya, Andy. Whooooosh.

Ben Smith's blog.

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