The day McLaren was re-born
McLaren.com brings you an exclusive insight from Tyler Alexander, who was a big part of the rebirth of McLaren on June 14th 1970, at Mosport, Canada. (The following extract is from Tyler Alexander's forthcoming autobiography, to be published by David Bull Publishing.)
On June 2nd 1970 I was in the Howard Johnson motel restaurant, not far from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, having breakfast with Dan Gurney, when I was called to the telephone.
It was Teddy Mayer. Bruce McLaren had been killed that afternoon at Goodwood when the rear wing and bodywork had come off our new Can-Am car, losing all rear downforce, he said.
The shock of what Teddy had just said - and the look on Dan’s face when I told him - took my breath away, at least for a moment or two. But the next thing that popped to the surface of my mind was: ‘What the hell do we do now?’
First thing was to tell the guys who were still packing up at the Indy garage what little I knew.
Next was sorting out a flight to return to England as soon as I could. My trip back, with my mind in a kind of kaleidoscope of confusion, sure as hell didn't let me get any sleep.
When I got there, the factory was in a terrible state, with a feeling of doom and gloom, as the shock, sadness and “what do we do now?” feelings all came to the surface. The reality of it all was that Bruce - the guy you would follow anywhere, as Howden Ganley had said earlier, “single file across the Sahara desert” - was now gone.
The world of motor racing can be tough.
But it’s at times like these that you have to get hold of yourself and keep people together - in this case, those who helped to make Bruce McLaren Motor Racing the team it was.
It was now time to use the things that we'd learned from Bruce, without showing personal sorrow.
There's no such thing as an average person. But, Bruce apart, there was another guy who was a particularly big part of Bruce McLaren Motor Racing and who contributed more to the company than anyone gave him credit for: Edward Everett Mayer, 'EEM', or just ‘Teddy'.
There was also Phil Kerr, another New Zealander friend of Bruce’s who had been working for Jack Brabham before coming to Bruce McLaren Motor Racing.
And then there was Gordon Coppuck, our chief designer, who had already spoken to everyone in the factory and had told them that, if they felt the need to take the next day or two off, then please do so.
But they all came in the next morning. It was then that Teddy stood up in front of everyone in the factory and said, with no fuss or preamble, but in standard Mayer-speak: “We all realise that something not very pleasant has happened. But we have a company called Bruce McLaren Motor Racing and it has a Can-Am race in two weeks - so best we get on with it!”
And, by Christ, we did.
I think just about everyone came in to work the following day. Those who had learned a great many things from Bruce were now the ones who knew it was up to them to get their shit together to keep Bruce McLaren Motor Racing going.
Phil Kerr had taken on the job of dealing with various tasks associated with Bruce's wife, Patty.
Teddy had been on the phone, chasing and sorting out a deal with Dan to drive alongside Denny Hulme, whose hands were still in bandages and not yet fully healed from the fire at Indianapolis.
I'm not really too sure how to say all of the next bit, but I'll give it a go anyway.
The day two heroes were made
When we arrived in Mosport for the first Can-Am race of the 1970 season, Denny’s hands were still in bad shape and Dan had never had a chance to drive or test the new car.
I had known Dan for a long time but I had never actually worked with him. I guess it was qualifying that told you just how good he was and how much he liked to try new things.
Dan asked us to put most of the selection of springs and roll bars on the car for him to try during practice. With about 10 minutes left in qualifying, I said to him: “We need to do a proper lap time. What would you like on the car?”
He said something about just needing a couple of laps. Then he jumped in and put it on pole with whatever the hell springs and roll bars were on it at the time.
In the race Dan had a long battle with Jackie Oliver but, in the end, Dan won and Denny finished third. When it was over, Denny sat in the car in the pit lane for a very long time. He didn't really have the strength to get out and, in any case, he couldn't get one of his hands off the steering wheel for quite a while because of the unhealed damage from the Indy fire.
Those two guys, Dan and Denny, that day brought Bruce McLaren Motor Racing back to life, along with the fortitude and hard work of all the people in the factory who had made it possible to be there in the first place.
Denny really had balls and guts to do what he did, considering how bad his hands were.
Later on, he told us that he just had to do it, "for Bruce".
Denny won the 1970 Can-Am series and, judging by a few of his quiet comments during the season, a lot of his effort and thoughts were related to Bruce. The rest of us obviously had thoughts of our own on the same subject, but we had to stay focused on our job and the business of winning races - which I know Bruce would have expected us to do.
Like many other racing people, Bruce was more than just talented; he was versatile.
His achievements will never die.