Milt Minter — Porsche hard charger
One of North America’s most popular road-racing talents died on December 23 after losing his battle with cancer. He was 71. Minter was a professional driver for much of the past 50 years. Born and raised in Sanger, California, he served as a radio-man in the US Navy for four years before he began racing in 1957: the consummate all-rounder, he would go on to compete in every conceivable event from the Baja 1000 to the Le Mans 24 Hours.
It was with Porsche that ‘Uncle Milty’ (or ‘Donkey Bop’ as he was often known) became inextricably linked, driving for Ted Field’s Interscope squad, Vasek Polak and Al Holbert among others, campaigning the 917/10 monsters and assorted 934/935 variants during the 1970s and early ’80s. Renowned as a hard charger, he was awarded the Pedro Rodriguez Award in 1973 by the Porsche factory as the ‘most aggressive driver of the season’.
Minter was also a semi-regular Trans-Am driver, competing in 55 races from 1967 to ’82, often starring in outdated privateer equipment. He took three victories and placed second in the 1972 drivers’ championship to George Follmer.
In recent years Minter remained active through coaching, running driver schools and occasionally sharing a 911 GT1 with Gunnar Jeannette and Chad (son of Steve) McQueen.
A racer to the end, Minter was cremated wearing his driving suit.
John Drake — Renowned Indy engine builder
The last link with America’s legendary Offenhauser dynasty died of a heart attack on November 15.
It was Drake Engineering that continued development of the twin-cam Offy ‘four’ which dated back to the 1920s and the partnership of Harry Miller, Fred Offenhauser and Leo Goossen.
When Miller lurched into bankruptcy in 1933 Offenhauser revived the engine design, but by 1946 the business had been taken over by Lou Meyer and Dale Drake. John joined his father in the business as a machinist and engine builder in the mid-50s.
The engine’s age-defying success in Champ Cars as well as in dirt-oval Sprint cars was down to Drake Jnr’s engineering nous and technical direction. Once Meyer left for Ford in 1965 the Drake family bought his share of the business, with John assuming overall control in 1972.
Remarkably he would push the venerable engine to a further four Indy 500 victories.
Drake closed his business in the mid-1990s but his retirement was short-lived: he soon joined Stuart van Dyne to assist in Offy engine rebuilds for historic oval racing.