86 V8 Sleuth
Channel Seven commentator and chassis historian Aaron Noonan tracks the whereabouts of Glenn Seton Racing’s earliest Falcons. Theme song: Robert Palmer’s ‘Looking for Clues’.
Following the surprise appearance of AJ Foyt at Liverpool Raceway in January 1975, driving a VW-powered speedcar no less, another US legend Johnny Rutherford was booked for an Australian tour the following summer. He also raced a ‘lawnmower’ as these cars were sometimes described.
Like Foyt, Rutherford was a multiple Indianapolis winner (1974, 1976 and, in the future, 1980) and according to his competitors, an extra nice guy. As a veteran pro racer he was happy to race anything, anywhere. He’d previously raced NASCAR stockcars and USAC sprintcars with success, on dirt and on pavement.
His most dramatic race at Canberra was up against Australian speedcar champion George Tatnell, in an event billed as the 2CA Tourist Trophy. The pair ran nose-to-tail throughout, tapping bumpers, with Tatnell just beating the American champion to the line. Tatnell rated this as one of his sweetest victories.
In 1977 Rutherford returned to Australia to drive a Ron Hodgson team Torana A9X at Bathurst, sharing the car with American lady racer Janet Guthrie. They retired after 13 laps and never came to grips with the Mountain.
Other Americans to race at Canberra included ‘Sleepy’ Tripp, Larry Rice and Hank Butcher, all in speedcars, plus Gary Patterson in sprintcars and super modifieds. GP didn’t like driving those ‘taxi cabs’ as he called them.
There was also a host of sedan stars competing as part of the USA team. Big Ed Wilbur is the most memorable of these, as much for his talents as a stand-up comedian as for his considerable driving skills.
The Americans’ response to racing in Australia’s capital city was varied.
It was Patterson who once told the Fraser Park crowd… “I only went out for the main (feature race) to keep faith with all the GP fans in your national capital, which is such a great place that even your politicians get out of it at every opportunity.”
Top: Big Ed Wilbur. Right: Sleepy Tripp. Below: George Tatnell battling American legend Johnny Rutherford for the 2CA Tourist Trophy.