US F5000: The oth­ers

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

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!

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