'It's been a great ride'

A few words this month about Roger Bailey’s remarkable career in racing, which spanned more than half a century until his recent retirement from running the Indy lights series. Bailey grew up in Cambridgeshire and started his career working in a local garage while attending Peterborough Technical College. his first job in racing came in 1959 when he was 18, working on Jim Russell’s cars.

Included on Bailey’s amazing CV as a chief mechanic and engine builder are winning the british F3 Championship with Jackie Stewart in 1964; helping build the Le Mans-winning Ford MKIIs in 1966; spending the years from 1967-69 as Chris Amon’s personal chief mechanic at Ferrari in Formula 1, Sports Cars, Tasman and Can-Am cars; building McLaren’s Can-Am and indycar engines through the early and mid-70s, including the incredible 1100bhp turbo Offies which powered the McLaren M16s with which Peter Revson and Johnny Rutherford qualified on pole at Indianapolis in 1971, ’73 and ’76, and Rutherford used to win the 500 in 1974 and ’76; plus being IMSA’s technical director from 1981-84.

While working for the Cooper F1 team in the ’60s bailey shared a house with Amon, among others, and Chris and he became good friends. After joining Ferrari in 1967 Amon asked Bailey to come to maranello to work on his cars. thus began Bailey’s two and a half years as the first non-Italian race mechanic on the factory Ferrari F1 and sports car teams.

Amon won the Tasman Championship in 1969, and bailey and Amon also campaigned the fearsome ferrari 612 in the Can-Am series in 1969 (above).

“That was probably the most enjoyable time of my 50 years in racing,” Bailey declares. “Those two and a half or three years at Ferrari I think were the best of my racing life, though they weren’t the most successful because we didn’t win an F1 race that whole time. We led a lot of them but Chris and I never won an F1 or Sports Car race together for Ferrari. We were second in the ’67 BOAC 500 with a P4 with Jackie [Stewart], and Chris finished second at Sebring in ’69 with Mario [Andretti].”

After his Ferrari interlude with Amon, bailey spent 10 years with McLaren engines in detroit building big-block Chevrolet Can-Am and turbo-charged Offenhauser Indycar engines, earning the nickname ‘boost’. His work at McLaren ultimately resulted in Bailey becoming IMSA’s Technical Director in 1981. Four years later a pivotal step in Bailey’s career took place when he became the operations boss of a new series, bankrolled by leading CART team owner Pat Patrick, called the American racing series. The ARS became CART’s primary support series and was reborn in 1991 as the firestone indy lights series. bailey ran it for 26 years before reluctantly retiring this spring at an energetic 70 years old.

“It’s been a great ride,” Roger grins. “I wouldn’t change one damn thing. To me the greatest thing of all has been the people. I was very fortunate to be around in the days when there was very little differentiation between mechanics and drivers. We would go to the tip top up the hill at monte Carlo with graham, Jimmy, Trevor, Bruce and Denny, and everybody else would be in there. It was like everybody was part of it. now it’s so deined between the mechanics and owners and drivers.

“I feel very blessed to have been part of that era when it was still fun to go racing. it’s very impersonal now. I think it was much more a team sport with very much more togetherness.

“It’s a different era. the cars are so different and we’ve taken the driver out of the equation. look at F1 qualifying today. So often it’s two McLarens, two Red Bulls, two Mercedes, two Ferraris and so on. There will be some oddball cases thrown in there, but really it’s all about the car. Would Jenson Button have been World Champion last year in Vettel’s car? I think so. But it is what it is.”

Ever the realist, Roger Bailey enjoyed a great career in racing and we salute him for his many contributions to the sport.

Gordon Kirby