Teddy Mayer: Motor racing entrepreneur who helped James Hunt win the Formula One world championship
Wednesday 25 February 2009
Edward Everett "Teddy" Mayer trained as a lawyer, but motor racing was in his blood. More than once, tragedy in the sport affected him directly, but his competitive resolve never once wavered.
Born in 1935 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where his father would become governor, Mayer studied law at Yale and Cornell universities, but also became involved with the racing aspirations of his brother Timmy, three years his junior. The latter cut his teeth with an Austin-Healey, moved into single seaters in 1960 with a Lotus 18, and finished second in five of his eight races.
Despite being drafted into the US Army and based in Puerto Rico, Timmy took strategic leave at weekends and shuttled back home to compete in Formula Junior, racing with the Revlon heir Peter Revson in a team managed by Mayer which combined their names: RevEm Racing. Timmy won the 1962 SCCA Formula Junior title in a Cooper and made his Grand Prix debut in the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen later that year.
The brothers headed to Europe in 1963, where Timmy drove for Ken Tyrrell Racing. At the end of that season he signed to drive alongside the New Zealander Bruce McLaren in the nascent Bruce McLaren Motor Racing team.
McLaren and Timmy raced a pair of 2.5-litre Cooper Climaxes in the Tasman Cup series in Australia and New Zealand early in 1964. Timmy finished second to the future world champion and McLaren star Denny Hulme in his début at Levin and a week later, as McLaren won, he chased runner-up Hulme home in the New Zealand Grand Prix at Pukekohe.
His potential was clear, but in practice for the race in Longford, Australia, he crashed at high speed on the main straight where the cars tended to go light as they crested a rise, and was killed instantly as his car collided with some trees. As the Mayer family struggled to come to terms with the loss of their son, Teddy rallied. Within a month, on McLaren's behalf, he acquired the Zerex Special sports car from his fellow American Roger Penske. It was the machine that would set the McLaren team on the road to greatness, and sired the "orange elephant" sports cars with which they would dominate the lucrative Canadian American (Can-Am) Challenge Cup Series from 1967 to 1971.
Six years after his brother's death, Mayer was tested again, when McLaren was killed in one of his Can-Am cars on 2 June 1970 in a trial at the Goodwood circuit. Together with Hulme and fellow directors Phil Kerr and Tyler Alexander, who had been part of RevEm Racing in the early days, he was instrumental in keeping the shattered team alive. They continued to win in Can-Am and in Formula One, and then at Indianapolis and other American tracks when McLaren also ventured into the IndyCar series.
In 1974 Mayer engineered a brilliant alliance between McLaren, sponsor Marlboro and the 1972 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi, which, that season, resulted in the team's first world drivers' and constructors' championship. They repeated in the drivers' championship with James Hunt in 1976, though the mercurial Englishman had to be restrained as he ranted at Mayer after the dramatic finale in Fuji as he mistakenly believed that the American's call on tyre strategy, which actually won him the title, had cost him it.
McLaren's Formula One fortunes, however, declined thereafter, and in 1980 Mayer was forced to agree to a marriage of convenience, facilitated by Marlboro, between the McLaren team and fellow racer Ron Dennis's Project Four operation, which resulted in the creation of McLaren International. By 1982, Mayer and Alexander had left the team they had helped to create.
Mayer went on to run his own IndyCar team, Mayer Motor Racing, under Texaco Star sponsorship, before returning to Formula One with the Formula One Race Car Engineering (FORCE) team created by Lola's US importer Carl Haas. They would employ designers of the calibre of Neil Oatley, Ross Brawn and Adrian Newey and in 1985 ran the 1980 world champion Alan Jones in an operation lucratively funded by the US Beatrice corporation. They foundered a year later, however, after a change of the sponsor's management.
In 1989 Mayer stepped in to manage the Brabham Formula One team with drivers Martin Brundle and Mark Blundell, before returning to the US IndyCar scene as Roger Penske's vice chairman of motorsports operations. He was a key factor in Penske's outstanding successes of the Nineties, rekindling his past working relationship with Fittipaldi.
An Anglophile, Mayer later moved into a consultancy role with Penske in the UK which, despite spinal problems which affected his health, he continued until 2007. Under his stewardship, McLaren won races in Formula One, Can-Am and IndyCar racing (including three triumphs in the prestigious Indianapolis 500), a glittering record that not even Ferrari could boast.
"[Mayer's death] is a big loss for Grand Prix racing," Fittipaldi said. "Teddy was one of the guys who was there when Formula One started building up, with Bernie Ecclestone, Ken Tyrrell and Frank Williams. I owe a lot of my results and successes in my career to him. In 1993 I won my second Indy 500 with him as team manager [at Penske]. We won the Formula One world championship and Indianapolis 500 together, so I have a large amount of gratitude for what Teddy did for my career. He was extremely committed to succeed. And though he lost his brother Timmy in Tasmania, he continued to have the love and the passion for the sport."
Edward Everett Mayer, motor racing entrepreneur: born Scranton, Pennsylvania 8 September 1935; married Sally Bryant (marriage dissolved 1993, one son, one daughter); died East Clandon, Surrey 30 January 2009.
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