US F5000: Bartlett et al
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.