US F5000: Bartlett et al

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

Kevin Bartlett had sev­eral rea­sons for hit­ting the US scene. He and his mate Max Stewart were among the Aussie con­tin­gent in Amer­i­can F5000 in 1973. They fol­lowed ex­pa­tri­ate Aus­tralian Horst Kwech, who was among the Lola T300 run­ners in 1972.

Kevin Bartlett saw the US scene not just as a way to make some money from rac­ing but also a place where he might sell his McLaren M10B-Chev. As it turned out, there was no short­age of good F5000 cars avail­able in the States, so the McLaren would be re­turn­ing un­sold to Aus­tralia.

Still, it at­tracted some at­ten­tion in its only US ap­pear­ance, in 1972 at La­guna Seca, where Bartlett qual­i­fied sev­enth and fin­ished fifth over­all from the two heats. And it could eas­ily have been bet­ter than that: in one heat he was forced up the es­cape road on the last cor­ner of the race when his brakes failed. Had that not hap­pened, KB would have been third over­all.

“I did pretty well at La­guna Seca,” Bartlett says, “but I’d also been there be­fore do­ing a USAC race. So it was a bit eas­ier for me be­cause I’d made con­tacts through be­ing there for that. I’d got to know some peo­ple, and I tossed it around with Chuck Jones and Jerry Eis­ert and said, ‘If I come over with a McLaren can you help us out with a trans­porter, etc’. And that’s what hap­pened; they helped me tremen­dously.”

Bartlett says that in terms of lo­gis­tics, it wasn’t that hard to do the Amer­i­can races. And for the ’73 cam­paign, team­ing up with Max Stewart made things eas­ier.

“Maxie and I were bud­dies. We helped each other over there; we’d been in the same team with Mil­drens for a num­ber of years. There was never any an­i­mos­ity be­tween he and I. We’d run wheel to wheel; we wouldn’t bang wheels but we would go closer than most. I trusted him and he trusted me.

“So we sort of hung around to­gether over there. But lo­gis­ti­cally, do­ing the Amer­i­can races wasn’t too bad. I mean, in com­par­i­son with what we were get­ting in Aus­tralia, the prize­money was very at­trac­tive. The US dol­lar at the time was to our ad­van­tage; freight costs weren’t too bad.

“And ev­ery­thing was there. Carl (Haas, the Lola agent) was al­ways there at the track, so any­thing to do with Lola you could get, and en­gine wise, you’re in Amer­ica, where the en­gines came from.

“Cars were cheap. I bought a two-year-old Mer­cury Mon­terey with a 428 in it as a tow car; only paid about $1000 for it. Max bought an old Chevy sta­tion wagon, I think he paid about $900 for that. We drove from the west coast right across to the Glen and back, via Mid Ohio and Michi­gan. I don’t think we spent a dol­lar on those cars ex­cept for fuel.”

Bartlett switched to an Amer­i­can-owned Lola T300 af­ter the La­guna Seca round. At Watkins Glen he looked the man to beat; for a long time in qual­i­fy­ing he was on pro­vi­sional pole, but Bartlett was un­able to de­fend his time when other driv­ers chal­lenged it as the Lola had suf­fered a sus­pen­sion fail­ure. On a week­end where most of the Lo­las were en­coun­ter­ing sus­pen­sion break­ages on the high-speed Watkins Glen track, by the time the team had scrounged up and fit­ted re­place­ment parts, John Can­non had pipped KB for pole.

Bartlett was fifth in the first heat, fin­ish­ing the race with one front wing end bro­ken off and sub­stan­tial dam­age to the side of the T300 where Brett Lunger’s car had hit it.

Be­tween heats Bartlett re­built the gear­box him­self while the rest of the dam­age was re­paired.

In the sec­ond heat he looked set for sec­ond place un­til the fuel tank sprouted a leak (an un­de­tected legacy of Lunger’s hit), spray­ing fuel through the cock­pit and all over the driver. Bartlett con­tin­ued in the race for as long as he could stand the pain from the fuel burn­ing his skin. Bar­ring that prob­lem, he surely would have fin­ished Watkins Glen sec­ond over­all.

“We were fairly com­pet­i­tive,” he re­flects today. “We didn’t win any races, but we were in pretty good com­pany too!

“But also, I wasn’t to­tally con­fi­dent in the car, that par­tic­u­lar 300. At Brain­erd, Min­nesota, we were right up there. I for­get what the fail­ure was that day, but I was start­ing to get a lit­tle bit an­noyed. I was lack­ing con­fi­dence in what was hap­pen­ing with the car.”

In ’73 Bartlett drove no less than three dif­fer­ent Lola T330s in his four starts and for River­side and Michi­gan he’d been en­tered (but did not run) in the old T300. At La­guna Seca he crashed the Haas T330 in qual­i­fy­ing but still man­aged to fin­ish third in one of the heats.

For Mid Ohio, Bartlett bought him­self a brand new T330. The plan was to run the re­main­ing Amer­i­can races and take it home for the ’74 Aus­tralian sea­son. But the new en­gine he’d leased for Mid Ohio failed just 15 min­utes into the first prac­tice ses­sion.

“I was faced with en­gine re­place­ment, which was go­ing to take up most of prac­tice. Tony Adamow­icz had just had a big off in his Car­ling Black La­bel 330, and mine was there, and be­cause it was the same colour as his, black, and it wasn’t run­ning, they ap­proached me at Watkins

Glen and said, ‘Can we buy your car?’ I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know, what sort of deal have you got’. And then Carl Haas stepped in.

“Carl said, ‘Look, here’s the deal. I’ll put some­thing to­gether for you. You sell that car to them, and I’ll get a get a car out of Lola, air­freighted, free of charge, to Aus­tralia’.

“I said, ‘That’s very nice Carl, but I still want to race here’. So we ne­go­ti­ated a lit­tle more, and I ended up get­ting two spare en­gines, and a bunch of other bits, as com­pen­sa­tion for not rac­ing. It was a pretty tasty deal for me. But as it turned out, Maxie Stewart had crashed his 330 in prac­tice, and went into the catch fenc­ing. The car was re­pairable, but Max had bro­ken his fore­arm. So I ended up driv­ing that car and fin­ished rea­son­ably well!

“We won enough prize­money to pay my and Max’s mo­tel bills and get us back to Cal­i­for­nia. The whole thing ended up be­ing prof­itable for me be­cause I ended up with a new car back in Aus­tralia, with no freight costs.”

Fi­nan­cially it had turned out OK but, af­ter show­ing on more than one oc­ca­sion that he had front-run­ning pace, Bartlett was left to re­flect on what might have been.

“If we had have had ev­ery­thing there, spare en­gines sit­ting there ready to go, if we’d been able to run 500rpm more in our en­gines with­out them fail­ing, I’m sure we could have done a lot bet­ter. But we didn’t, so you don’t know. But it was good times, good ad­ven­tures. It was a pretty slim shoe­string at times!”

And that was it for Bartlett in the States. The se­vere leg in­juries he would sus­tain in a shunt at Pukekohe the fol­low­ing Jan­uary ruled him out of the ’74 L&M Se­ries and left him hob­bling on a walk­ing stick, which he still needed when he ac­com­pa­nied John Goss to that fairy­tale pri­va­teer Fal­con vic­tory at Bathurst in Oc­to­ber.

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