SCD: Do you and Dan Gurney have some real estate in common?
CJ: My first real facility is the one Dan Gurney is in now. Dan and I had a partnership at one time and I sold him the property.
SCD: You later became involved in F5000, largely with Jerry Eisert, and worked with a number of talented drivers and some of the very best F5000 machinery ever to hit the track.
CJ: I ended up inheriting a negative estate, a lot of property and no money, from my Mom. I’m not complaining, but from the instant she died, bless her heart, I was well over a half a million dollars in debt. Now this was in 1963. It didn’t get any better for almost seven years, but I had a very good law firm that guided me, a young wife, two little kids; and we knew every free place in Southern California to go to. I’m telling you the truth!
I managed to get the first Lola T70 in the country and we finished 2nd or 3rd in the USRRC that year . Max Balchowsky, Skip and I; that was us. Managed to keep racing and ended up with this building that Gurney is now in. Had a nice little machine shop I managed to put together and some of my ex-drag racing friends came in to run the machine shop and we managed to stay alive, race, put food on the table, and keep bill collectors at bay by paying a little here and a little there. By 1969 we got it turned around and my wife and I and the two kids packed up and went to Europe where we rented a house in the south of Switzerland. We didn’t do anything but read books and magazines and look out the window for about a year and a half. That was Regazzoni’s home town and I knew who he was from that and two years later he was driving for me.
I met Andrew Marriot and Mike Doodson in 1973 when I wanted to put the best driver in my F5000 car. I had the first one with banana wings on a titanium perch. I went back to Watkins Glen in 1973 to see if I could do a deal, and the first guy I asked was Jackie Stewart. He would have been happy to come out but he promised his wife that they would go to Bermuda that following weekend. I talked to Fittapaldi, and he wanted to do it and Chapman wouldn’t let him. I talked with Hailwood and Ickx, I talked to Regazzoni and I liked him the instant I met him. Of course he ended up driving for me for a couple of races in F5000, and later on in F1. In fact his career was sadly finished in our car at Long Beach in 1980 when he was paralyzed. We were actually family friends as his son came to live with us for a while and is still very close.
What I wanted to do was build credentials towards Formula 1. I pretty much stayed with open wheel racing, a few Indy car entries, USRRC, Can Am. Interested in doing the kind of things that would get me into F1.
I made enough of a mark that I had drivers from 17 different countries drive for me over my career, a few Americans like Al Unser Sr. and Skip Hudson, but I tended to go for the best guys I could get. Not that I was so damn smart, I just knew how to pick the best guys that I could afford. And it worked reasonably well. I was never a Penske or anywhere near close to that, but I had some successes and a hell of a lot of fun.
SCD: You worked with Graham McRae in 1974, how did that come about?
CJ: I had been involved with an Australian driver, Kevin Bartlett in the late ‘60s. Jerry Eisert and I went to Indy with a car; it was Chevy powered and quite good. We had problems in qualifying that killed us there, and later at Fontana we used Kevin again and I liked him, I liked his attitude and his abilities and all that. So in 1972, when I came back to the States, we had been designing a car of our own to run in Can Am [Jerry Eisert and I]. Kevin Bartlett called from Australia and wanted to know if he could use our garage as he was coming up with a McLaren M10B to run in F5000 to see if he could sell it.
We said to come up and we picked him up at the airport got the car and took it and rebuilt it. To make a long story short, we went to the F5000 race in early ’72 at Laguna Seca. Graham McRae was there with his GM1 and he just blew everyone off except Kevin. Kevin ended up 3rd or 4th. We realized that Can Am was probably coming to its end, so we made a decision literally that evening and I packed up Kevin and sent him to England and we went F5000 racing [in the UK]. That’s what got me into it. He drove for me in ’72 and then for various reasons we decided to go our separate ways. I then tested Rocky Moran, who I liked very much and had been driving an older Surtees. Rocky was quick in the T300 that we were going to run for a couple of races till we got our new T330 for 1973.
The only problem was that Rocky was so big, he weighed 235 pounds and was 6’ 2”; he couldn’t get comfortable in the car and frankly we couldn’t use him in the early races. So I put Jerry Grant in the car and we had a fair weekend with some minor problems. But F5000 was really warming up into a tough series at that time.
In the meantime, Bobby Muir, another Australian called me and wanted to know if I’d be interested in getting together with him and running his T330. Bobby turned out to be very quick and raced well up until a point. At that point he’d end up somewhere off the course. So getting into the last races of the season, it was at Elkhart Lake, and I had purchased the car from him. He was running a hard second to Scheckter and literally in one of the final corners of the last lap he crashed. I told him that was it. I have to admit his honesty was there, and we still communicate all the time.
After that I went to Watkins Glen the following week to talk to some of the top line drivers as I mentioned earlier. I ended up getting Regazzoni and he drove for us in Seattle. I knew that there was a difference in drivers and we finished second or third overall in that race. On the strength of that finish, we were offered $35,000 dollars, which may not sound like much today, but in 1973 was a hell of a lot of money; to run at Brands Hatch in one of the mixed F5000/F1 races there. It didn’t work out well for us as we couldn’t get the car to sit down on the track. We missed the shock setting, and he just had to drive hard and I think he finished 8th or 9th, something like that.
The next year I connected with Graham McRae , and we decided to match up together and I got another T330. In the interim we ran one of his chassis for a race or two. He was an interesting but sometimes difficult guy to race with. Basically he wanted the shop and the money. He wanted to run the whole operation, and I’m saying that with a big smile on my face. I was up to the arm wrestling match; I’ll put it that way. Frankly those were some of the things you deal with when you shoot to get top line drivers in your car.
I had earlier in the season told Skip Barber that he could drive the car, and Skip sent a couple of engines out. Then Graham appeared on the scene and I made the decision and had to call Skip and send the engines back. I think he’s finally forgiven me for that.
I was getting to be pretty hard nosed about a lot of things by that time. It’s not my basic nature, but in racing sometimes it better be. I went for what was the strongest driver/owner package. At Watkins Glen we finished 2nd or 3rd, we broke a valve spring. I’m an old hot rodder and Graham is a guy from down under in New Zealand, so we were both use to doing things on the spur of the moment in the middle of nowhere. In between morning warm up and the race, we changed the valve spring using air pressure without pulling the head. I think he finished 2nd or 3rd, he could really drive.
The last of that season , Graham and I went our separate ways. I put Al Unser in my car for the last few races. Al had done very little road racing up till that point. I put him in the car and we raced very well together. That was the point that I really wanted to move into F1 and subsequently did.