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The Curious Case Of The Sugaripe Eagle Of 1975

Mike Mosley was “hooked up” at Milwaukee in 1975. The quiet Californian would win the 1975 Tony Bettenhausen 200 in the Sugaripe Prune No. 12 Eagle-Offy.   Gordon Johncock and Tom Sneva followed in second and third place. [Photo courtesy of the Glenn Snyder collection]

On Sunday morning, August 17th, 1975, Johnny Rutherford was upbeat. After all he was fastest qualifier for the Tony Bettenhausen 200 at Wisconsin State Fair Park Speedway in West Allis, WI and had one of the best cars, a factory prepared, Tyler Alexander-prepped McLaren M16-Offy. The white, green and orange Gatorade sponsored McLaren was one of the favorites to win at the venerable Milwaukee Mile. Not surprisingly his front row mate, “Super-Tex” A.J. Foyt would be a viable rival as would Michigan-native, Gordon Johncock as all were recent winners at Milwaukee. However after qualifying Rutherford told Roger Jaynes of the Milwaukee Journal another driver was his concern, Mike Mosley. “Mike seems to run well at Milwaukee, and right now his car is running real well right now period.” Although not a superstar, Mosley was a very respected driver on the Championship car trail. He won at Trenton in 1971, nevertheless a couple of hard crashes during the Indianapolis 500 in 1971 and ’72, the latter while leading, derailed his career for a bit. His team, Leader Card Racers with legendary mechanic A.J. Watson turning the wrenches stuck with him, in which he rewarded the underfunded team with a win at Phoenix in the spring of 1974. However they parted ways late in the season.

Johnny Rutherford won the pole for the Bettenhausen 200 in the Team McLaren Gatorade McLaren M16-Offy.  [Photo courtesy of the Glenn Snyder collection]

Johnny Rutherford won the pole for the Bettenhausen 200 in the Team McLaren Gatorade McLaren M16-Offy. [Photo courtesy of the Glenn Snyder collection]

Jud Phillips was Bobby Unser’s right-hand man at Leader Cards when the two paired up in late 1966. With the backing of Goodyear, many wins including a Indianapolis 500 win in 1968 were the spoils before the two split after the 1970 season. Phillips eventually moved to Jerry O’Connell’s Sugaripe Prune team. Starting in 1970, the team saw success with second-generation driver, Billy Vukovich, with ‘Vuky’ finishing in the top-6 in points four times (1971-1974). However, a win in the first Twin-125 at Michigan in 1973 was the only trip to victory lane for the Sugaripe team.

Back at Milwaukee, Rutherford encountered mechanical problems on Lap-162 during the Bettenhausen 200. Although Mosley was already dominating the second half of the “200” leading 128 of the final 146-laps. Fan-favorite, Foyt had retired on Lap-4 because of gearbox troubles. Make no mistake, Mosley was the man to beat. Johncock who finished second told Jaynes after the race, “He was smoking all of us out. He went around us like we were tied to stumps.” Afterwards, Mosley shocked the racing world by retiring from racing.

Bobby Unser who was absent from Milwaukee was looking for work. His car owner, Dan Gurney and his All-American Racers had shut down for the 1975 season after Michigan in July. When the USAC Indy Cars returned to MIS in September, Unser was in the No. 12 Sugaripe Prune Eagle-Offy vacated by Mosley. Running up-front most of the day he was battling Rutherford for second when he hit the wall at start/finish line and breaking his right leg in the process. In spite of everything, Unser ended up in third while Tom Sneva went on to win his first race. Once again, Jud Phillips was looking for a driver.

Al Unser was seeking a ride as Parnelli Jones had shuttered his Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing for the remainder of the year. 1975 was a tough year as Firestone had withdrawn from racing, forcing Jones and Mario Andretti to abandon the Formula One circuit. Meanwhile, the team with Viceroy sponsorship also disappearing at the end of the year was working on a new car and engine for the upcoming season. Phillips asked Unser if he’d like to run the car at Trenton the following week. Accepting the ride, Unser went out to New Jersey, qualified sixth and ended up finishing on the lead-lap with winner Johncock in fourth place. Unser was delighted, he liked the team and Phillips invited Unser to run the car at Phoenix.

Jimmy Dilamarter called Unser to let him know that the new “Parnelli” chassis was ready to run Phoenix. Using a new F-1 based Cosworth engine, they wanted to hit the ground running for the ’76 season. Unser who was still under contract suggested Mario who was in a transitional point in his career. About to join Penske for the 1976 season and run part-time for Lotus in F-1, Mario jumped at the chance. Andretti qualified third and ended up running third one-lap down. Phillips was worried that the super competitive Andretti was not going to happy finishing a lap down to winner, Foyt and the upstart, Sneva. However, Andretti was delighted as it was the his best finish of the year.

So Phillips won at Milwaukee with Mosley, got a third with Bobby Unser at Michigan, fourth at Trenton with Al Unser, and a third with Andretti at Phoenix. Who would drive the No. 12 car in 1976? Why of course, Mike Mosley. The quiet Californian would also win again at Milwaukee the following June.

 

 

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Steve Zautke, a Milwaukee, WI native, was raised in the sport of auto racing. His father, Bill, was a movie photographer that shot racing footage at tracks such as the Milwaukee Mile and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the 1960’s and 1970’s Steve’s first professional job in racing was as an Emergency Medical Technician at tracks such as Angell Park and Hales Corners Speedway (1988-1991). Steve has also worked for the Milwaukee Mile as videographer, in media relations and historian (1993-2011). Steve also has worked as a reporter for Racing Information Systems (RIS) and has written features for ‘Vintage Oval Racing’ and ‘Victory Lane’ magazines. Most recently, Steve has written a book on Road America for Arcadia Publishing. ( http://www.amazon.com/Road-America-Nascar-Library-Collection/dp/1467111457 ) Steve co-hosts “Sparky’s Final Inspection” a motorsports-based radio show with hosts, Steve “Sparky” Fifer and “NASCAR Girl” Summer Santana on Sports Radio 1250AM in Milwaukee and is also available on the internet at www.Sportradio1250.com. A member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Induction Committee, Steve follows all types of racing from the dirt tracks to Formula One.