We're celebrating 50 years of racing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with personal recollections from some of the racers who've made their mark at one of America's finest natural-terrain tracks.
This week, ace driver and gifted raconteur Brian Redman recalls some of his favorite Mid-Ohio moments – and it's fair to say he has plenty to choose from. Not only did the Englishman win three consecutive Formula 5000 races at the track (1974, '75 and '76) but, among others, he also tasted success in IMSA GTP racing and even a Can-Am heat race during its mega-horsepower heyday of the early '70s.
Over to you, Brian…
For some reason, Mid-Ohio was probably the luckiest track for me in the world. For a long, long period of time, I finished either first or second – I couldn't go wrong. I won there three straight years in Formula 5000 and I had some pretty good races and results in a variety of other series, too. It was a great track for me.
It's a challenging track, and it's not a track where it's easy to overtake on. I always tried to set a car up with as little downforce as I could comfortably manage in order to have straightaway speed. Really, the best place to pass was at the end of the straight. Going 'round the back there, over that hump and the approach to it, are quite difficult.
1973 was my first year with Jim Hall and Carl Haas in Formula 5000. In the race at Mid-Ohio, the engine began to overheat. The water temperature was rising and I had to back off. Jody Scheckter, who went on to become Formula 1 World Champion for Ferrari, was sort of disappearing into the distance. But it started raining. It wasn't hard enough that we had to stop for rain tires, but of course we had to slow down.
When the rain stopped, I was 27 seconds behind Jody. From then on, I went flat-out. I never looked at the gauges again. I caught him on the last lap. He had a carbureted engine; I had fuel injection. The problem with the carburetor is that under high cornering loads, they tended to get fuel starvation and they would cough a little bit. So I got alongside Jody coming onto the back straight and we went side by side all the way down into the Esses. He turned in and hit me and we both spun. But Jim Hall had taken first gear out of the gearbox to save weight, so Jody got away first and I was second!
Jim Hall only said negative things to me two times in the four years I drove for him, and one was at Mid-Ohio in 1975. I came in after qualifying, and he said, “How is it?” I said, “It's good.” And he said, “Brian, I sure as heck don't understand why this car is slower than Mario Andretti's!” We went on and won the race.
I did bother about qualifying to some degree, but would never really go over the limit to get pole position. I was pretty happy if I was somewhere in the first two rows.
In 1974, I took the first of my three F5000 wins, battling with Mario (leading, RIGHT) in the early laps, and I also did the one-off race for Roger Penske in the Donohue Porsche 917-30 Can-Am car. Of course, it had enormous throttle lag and over 1,000hp. Donohue was the team manager and he was pretty unhappy. We didn't talk much about the car or anything else.
In principle, the car couldn't run because the SCCA had effectively put the Porsche 917 turbos out of business by announcing a fuel regulation that they couldn't meet. When Roger Penske rang me to ask, “Brian, would you like to drive the Porsche 917-30 at Mid-Ohio?” I said “It can't run.” He said, “Brian, it can run!”
When I went to see him in Reading, Pa., he said, “How much do you want?” I said, “Five thousand dollars,” and he said, “Brian, you're the most reasonable racing driver I ever met!”
It rained for the first heat race and I tried to conserve the tires a bit. If it had dried out, the wet tires would have just disappeared with all that power. I managed to win that, from the two Shadows of George Follmer and Jackie Oliver. The Shadow was a new, modern car, in fact the only one racing in the Can-Am in 1974. I'd got on pole position and, at the start, I got away OK, closely followed by Follmer and Oliver.
With the 917-30, you had to time how you opened the throttle, and you drilled it well before you wanted the power because you would lose so much time. There was so much throttle lag; it wasn't like driving a normal car. I opened up the throttle a fraction too soon so when the weight came up off of the wheels going over the hump, I'd opened the throttle before it was fully settled back on the road. I went sideways and, while I was busy sorting that out, both Follmer and Oliver passed me.
Oliver was now leading from Follmer and I was third. I caught up to them and they were hard at it. They disliked each other intensely and Follmer made a crazy move. You know that bit after the Keyhole where you drop down into the right-hander? He tried to pass Jackie there and there was no chance. He hit him straight in the door; it broke George's nose and he was out of the race, but Oliver carried on.
Unfortunately, it was wet at the start of the race and drying. Before the race I asked Mark, “What happens to the handling if you groove the slick tires for these wet conditions? What happens to the handling of the car if it dries out?” He said “Nothing,” but the handling went completely away. I had enormous understeer throughout the race and almost hit the barrier in the Carousel – I went off the track into the wet grass and missed the barrier by nothing. I still finished second, but it was disappointing.
In 1977, after four years in Formula 5000 and winning the championship three times (LEFT, in '76), with Mario finishing second twice in 1974 and '75 and Al Unser Sr. second in '76, also driving for Vel's Parnelli, the SCCA decided to change the rules. They said it was because they weren't getting the crowds they did back in the Can-Am days. It was decided to re-create the Can-Am, but it was Formula 5000 single-seater cars with bodywork fitted. It was kind of a makeshift thing and I had a big accident in practice for the first race at St. Jovite. It took me a year to recover.
I did some racing in 1978 but not much, and I said to my wife, “I need to get a job.” I rang Carl Haas, who I'd driven with for four years. He was the Lola dealer, and he said, “You can come sell Lola cars in Highland Park [Illinois].” I said how much, and he said, “$30,000.” I said, “Including a car?” He said, “No car!” We went from a peaceful country farmhouse in Yorkshire in the north of England where I raised Hereford cattle, Clydesdale horses and sheep to a condo in Highland Park.
Very early on, when I was working for Carl, IMSA brought out new regulations called GTP. They wanted to break Porsche's domination of their series. Porsche won every race for four years, except one. I said to Carl, “Lola could build a car with a Chevy or Ford V8 that could win this series.” It's a long story and we're meant to be talking about Mid-Ohio, but I went to see Eric Broadley in England and we got it done. We had a fantastic year in 1981 with the T600 (RIGHT), racing it 10 times, with five wins and five second-place finishes, and Mid-Ohio was one of those wins.
I also had a lot of great races at Mid-Ohio in the vintage events, driving a Chevron B19. In fact, I was at Mid-Ohio very recently for the SVRA event. I hadn't been there for a long time and I was glad to see how well kept it was. They had a great turnout and I had a great time.
Yes, it's certainly been a great track for me.
For more on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and its 50th season of racing, visit the official website at MidOhio.com.
Sept. 16-18, the Grand-Am Rolex Series takes center stage with the EMCO Gears Classic presented by KeyBank. For tickets, CLICK HERE.