30 Years Ago – Mike Mosley Wins 1981 Rex Mays Classic

On Saturday June 6th, 1981, over twenty six race teams prepared for the 32nd annual Gould Rex Mays Classic 150 held at historic Milwaukee Mile. An unexpected engine failure during practice caused the Dan Gurney led All-American Racers Team of Santa Ana, CA to miss qualifying for the 24 positions available for the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) event. Gordon Johncock placed Pat Patrick’s light-blue and day-glo orange STP Oil Treatment Wildcat-Cosworth on the pole at a speed of 134.700 mph. Bobby Unser positioned his blue Norton Spirit Penske PC9B-Cosworth alongside on the front row.

However, even after missing qualifying, Gurney and his All-American Racers (AAR) team continued to thrash on the distinctive yellow and white car. The car, a 1981 Eagle designed by John Ward was unique in several areas. One was aerodynamics, most open wheeled cars of that era and even today have sidepods on either side of the main tub with venturis trailing the sidepods. The ’81 Eagle was narrow with a wide ‘platform’ or whale tail at its rear which produced tremendous downforce. The other uniqueness was its powerplant. Gurney with the help of builders Stump Davis and Jerry McGarrity were developing serious horsepower with their pushrod Chevrolet stock block. The car started to show its potential several weeks prior. Gurney remembers in an earlier interview, “We qualified in the middle of the front row at Indy, that car was no slouch, even though it had a stock-block Chevy in it.” Radiator failure at Indianapolis the week before grounded the car after 16 laps. Gurney and crew brought the same chassis and engine combination to Milwaukee.

Packing up and going home for the weekend was never was an option for the AAR team. Gurney, “We came there to race. We had a great deal of faith in Mike. Mike Mosley was an absolutely, fantastic oval racer. Our car was a lot better than people realized. “Gurney adds, “We had a feeling we had a good combination, Mike felt good about it. We just rolled our sleeves up and worked on getting that car ready. Promoter’s options in those days were common, a throwback to the days when fans would show up and want to watch their favorite stars race on their hometrack. Fans didn’t want their favorites on the sidelines, they wanted them on the racetrack. Adding Mosley in Gurney’s car was a no-brainer to promoter John Kaishian. They were Milwaukee favorites. Mosley started his open wheel career with the locally owned Leader Card Racers in 1967. Moving on to the Jerry O’Connell Sugaripe Prune team in 1975, Mosley won two races in a row at Milwaukee in 1975 and 1976. Gurney with driver Bobby Unser and the white Olsonite Eagle dominated in consecutive Rex Mays Classics in 1972 and 1973. Gurney a Formula One veteran, made his Milwaukee debut at Milwaukee as a Lotus teammate to famed Scotsman Jimmy Clark in 1963.

There was no real race strategy for the 150-mile race. It was basically a sprint race. Gurney recollects, “The (race) strategy was just, if there was an opportunity he (Mosley) was going to take it. Obviously, as he got going, the car was working real well and he was too. Gurney added, “Mike wasn’t bashful about it, he got with the program.”

At the drop of the green flag, Bobby Unser took the lead from polesitter Johncock. Unser, Johncock and Mario Andretti exchanged the lead for the first 76 laps as Mosley passed twelve cars in the first five laps. “He was passing the top teams, the best drivers out there, Gurney calls to mind. “He kept after it, he would pass them on the inside and he’d pass them on the outside. He was really great in traffic. The car was really working beautifully and Mike was doing his usual fantastic job. We were watching him pass those cars, and we know it was going to get more difficult. We thought he’s going to get to the point it’s going to get so hard, he won’t be able to pass anyone anymore. But it never happened. He managed to find a way around every single time.” Mosley took the lead from Tom Sneva on lap 106 and never looked back. Passing the likes of Penske and Patrick Racing and drivers such as the Al and Bobby Unser, Johnny Rutherford and Gordon Johncock, Mosley sent a message to the establishment. Long time AAR chief mechanic Wayne Leary remembered in a interview a few years ago, “Once the race started and we got half way, it was in my mind, if nothing broke we were going to win this thing. He passed them all before they fell out.” The crowd cheered wildly as Mosley took the lead. The Fallbrook, CA leadfoot impressed the fans that day. Mosley went on to take the lion’s share of the $153,780 purse.

Looking back, Gurney recalled the John Ward designed chassis, “It was very good at all the tracks. In fact it was so good, all the powers to be wanted to get rid of it and change the rules so it couldn’t run anymore. It was very good at Michigan, it qualified 12th, once again with all the guys with blown Cosworths, and sure enough he (Mosley) picked them off one at a time. He was leading by 2/3 of the race.” Leary adds, “It adjusted very well, anywhere we went, it ran well.”

Why didn’t Mosley and the AAR team return for the Tony Bettenhausen 200 later that year? Dan remembers, “We ran out of funding, the experts at Pepsi didn’t know which end was up so they pulled the plug on us.” Without proper funding, the team was sidelined for the remainder of the year.

The race is special to Gurney and his All-American Racers because, “Well it had an American engine in it and we had designed it here, and we were using a completing different concept-aerodynamically. It was dog gone efficient. It was a hellava terrific car. What we didn’t realize it bothered a lot of the established teams.” Leary adds, “It was our own, it was different.” Leary succinctly sums it up, “Any race you win is a good deal.”

Qualifying for the IndyCar Series and USAC Series races are set for Saturday, June 18, with the Milwaukee 225 IndyCar race scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 19. Tickets are available at the Wisconsin State Fair Park, at or by calling 800-722-3840.

Racing action will began at 10:15 a.m. on Friday, June 17, and will include the IZOD IndyCar Series, USAC Silver Crown, USAC Midgets, Star Mazda Championship and USF2000 machines.

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