US F5000: The others
Bob Muir is best known for his Army Reserve Falcon, but it was his openwheeler career during the early ‘70s where he really starred. We also looks at the assaults of John Walker, Warwick Brown, Vern and AJ.
Bob Muir is best known in Australia for his Army Reserve Falcon XD in the early ‘80s. But it was his openwheeler career during the early ‘70s where he really starred. And he certainly played a starring role in US Formula 5000 racing in 1972 and ’73.
Like most of his fellow Australian F5000 overseas travellers, it was the money that attracted Muir to the States. But while most of the others saw it as an adventure and an opportunity to maybe come home in front financially, for Muir it was the only way he could go F5000 racing.
“I actually couldn’t afford to race here,” he says. As he points out, but for a broken battery cable, he would likely have won the Elkart Lake round and that meant $30,000. “I ended up fourth, and even that paid $4000. “When I got to America, the Goodyear tyre guy came up to the car and said, ‘Give me your wheels and we’ll put some new tyres on’, and I said, ‘I can’t afford new tyres’. ‘God damn,’ he said, ‘we’re giving them to you!’
“I had been second fastest at that time, but I think most people were given free tyres. I know I got a free set every meeting.”
Top 10 results at Lime Rock and Riverside was a nice end to the ’72 season, with Muir finishing ninth in the points, the highest placed of the Australians. The Lime Rock round could have delivered more: he’d been fourth in the first heat and looked on course for the same result in the second until the Lola went off at a 220km/h sweeper. Muir wasn’t hurt but the car’s day was done.
For ’73 he returned with the T330 Gary Campbell had all but written off in a crash at Sandown. The wreck was flown to the States and rebuilt at Chuck Jones’ workshop by Muir’s mechanic (and future F5000 star himself) John Wright.
Jones ended up buying the car and running it for Muir, with Wright working on it with Chuck Jones’ guys. While in the States, Muir lived in a granny flat out the back of Jones’ house. Outside of that it was cheap motel accommodation. For Muir, ’73 was to be a frustrating season. “Trouble was that the car would break all the time. Silly stuff kept going wrong.
“At Riverside it broke the rear suspension I went off into the dust. I ended up backed up against what I thought was the fence, but when I got out and the dust had cleared, the car had actually climbed over another car – and the driver was still in the car! He must have gone off just before I had. My gearbox was sitting right in front of his helmet! If it had gone another foot, he’d have been decapitated.
“Something similar happened to Maxie Stewart at Watkins Glen. He went off there at the end of the straight and went through a wire fence. When the car stopped he had the wire fence right up under his chin. If it had gone another inch…”
Muir had his share of shunts that year but most of them were caused by mechanical failures.
“At Mid Ohio a driveshaft broke. I was up the front when that happened. The car spun in front of the field at the start. They all had to find a way past me. Sitting in the car, I thought I was gone…
“I was having lots of breakages and it was becoming difficult.”
The ’73 US F5000 season marked the emergence of young South African driver Jody Scheckter. The future world champion was utterly dominant – seconds per lap faster than his opposition at some tracks.
At Watkins Glen that year, Scheckter’s closest competitor was Muir.
“John Wright and I arrived at the Glen about a week before the meeting, so I got a few runs around the circuit and the car sorted out. When practice came around, everything fell together. Matich was there and he reckoned I was as quick as Scheckter, even though the times didn’t show it. So I was on the front row, and in the first heat everything was fine; I was winning by a country mile, and then it broke a pushrod. “So for the main race Jerry Eisert somehow isolated that cylinder, and I went out into the final with seven cylinders. Even on seven cylinders I was passing cars, but the engine failed about three-quarters of the way in.
“Then at Road Atlanta, at the flat-out corner where you get a bit airborne, the diff broke when the car landed.” By then Muir had had enough. The diff – a high maintenance item in F5000 cars – had supposed to have been changed, but hadn’t. With all the other failures the car had suffered, Muir decided to call it quits. He returned to Sydney and Chuck Jones put F1 star Clay Regazzoni in the car.
Muir didn’t go back for ‘74, and instead ended up in Europe running an Australian Birrana in Formula 2. But before that he did in the ’74 Australian F2 championship, where he was narrowly defeated by Leo Geoghegan. Muir had missed the opening round but had Geoghegan’s measure across the balance of series. Muir puts that down to the experience of racing in the States.
“I’d been doing some hard racing over there. It made me faster. You don’t sit beside Jody Scheckter on the grid for nothing!