By now almost everyone has caught that first STP commercial on television. And anyone who has ever been autosuggested into buying a product can hardly wait to see the next ones. It is natural to assume that a man who would dream up a zowie slogan like "STP is the racer's edge" has got to have a few more commercials in him. He has. They are coming. Are they ever coming!
Try this one: It opens with a tight close-up of Rocky Marciano's face, see, his brow all wrinkled, eyes squinting with strain, his mouth twisted. Gosh, fans, it is former World Heavyweight Champ Rocky right there on your home screen, and whatever is old Rocky doing? That is, aside from making $5,000 plus expenses. The camera will dolly back slowly, and everyone will observe that Rocky is arm wrestling. Beautiful, as they say in adsville. Those muscles are standing out in knotted bas-relief along his neck, and you will hear a voice-over saying grimly, "Come on, Rocky. Come on." For a trembling moment there it will look bad—but, sure enough, Rocky will win and slam the other arm down on the table. And then you will suddenly see that Rocky has been arm wrestling Andy Granatelli, the man who brews the STP.
In the first TV spot you saw Andy strolling along the deserted Indianapolis Motor Speedway, head down, belted into that super trench coat, those empty stands in the background. He does a pitch for STP and finally strolls off camera, all moody, head down. It was a just-right sort of commercial. But moody, schmoody—did it sell STP? Well, yes and no. There is no accurate measure of how the thing pulled. But it couldn't have been a total loss to Granatelli. If nothing else, he took orders for 5,000 of those trench coats.
Still, despite the fact it is all over TV and a household name and there are an estimated 28 million cars with STP stickers on them, not too many people—at least not enough for Granatelli—know what STP is. One of the biggest unsolicited boosts the stuff got recently was when a band of California acidheads concocted a sugar cube even tougher than LSD and called it STP, saying, in effect, when better minds are blown, STP will do the job. And in historic old Greenwich, Conn. the kids all say STP means "stop teen-age pregnancy." Andy, in his lighter moments, insists the label stands for "sex takes practice."
Actually STP is an additive; there is one for oil and one for gas. The initials used to stand for Scientifically Treated Petroleum, now altered to Scientifically Tested Products. One pours a can in the crankcase or gas tank and beautiful things happen, Andy asserts.
The big thing is, Granatelli's wondrous campaign represents total involvement of a kind rarely seen in America since the days when peddlers sold their own celery tonic from Conestoga wagons. Sure, Commander Whitehead peddled Schweppes, but very, very gently. Would Mr. Bell Telephone get on television and hard-sell his Princess model, perhaps using Tony Galento to show how dainty it is? Never.
Nor can one see Mr. Cooper modeling his Jockey shorts right there on camera, possibly wrestling a live lion to prove their freedom of movement under stress. Or Mr. Campbell spooning Chicken & Stars soup from a bowl, smacking his lips and saying, "Mmm, Mmm, good." Absolutely not.
Yet there is Andy Granatelli, the last of the great snake-oil salesmen, the last living commercial evangelist, pushing that STP.
Why does he do it? Granatelli is selling himself as a personality to sell STP, in order to make a lot of money, in order to spend it on racing, in order to accomplish this desperate thing, winning the Indianapolis 500. For 16 terrible years, through millions of dollars and down a boulevard of broken parts, Granatelli has tried to win the Indy 500. It has become a more enduring, dogged effort, heavier with pathos and heartbreak than the ordeal of Pepper Young's Family. He has missed the race by a mile, missed it by 500 miles; he has come closer than is decent. Once he tried to drive in the 500 himself and crashed in qualifying, breaking his head, both shoulders, one elbow and 11 teeth. And once he faced the bitterest blow of all. The man said, "Gentlemen, start your engines," and guess whose engine would not start?
Like Melville's Moby Dick, the 500 has driven Granatelli relentlessly down the years: forever that 500-mile race, that great damned elusive white whale that is the Borg-Warner trophy. It is not the prize money—which is considerable, the richest purse in all racing—it is just that he must, one time, win the thing.