In his first IROC race he had a sharp lesson in bump-draughting, and even wonders himself how he instinctively knew ways to work the traffic and airflow
Words: Simon Strang. Photography: LAT
Martin Brundle’s first experience of the 1990 International Race of Champions series was when he walked in to the back of a trailer in the Talladega paddock and saw a row of ‘old school’ wooden lockers complete with legendary names such as Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip printed on them.
Without a regular Formula 1 ride at the time, Brundle was driving factory Jaguars for Tom Walkinshaw on both sides of the pond. Off the back of his 1988 sportscar world title, he was invited to race against the good ol’ boys in the three-race series for identical Dodge Daytonas. The field was a NASCAR who’s who, but also included Indy 500 winners Emerson Fittipaldi, Al Unser Jr, Bobby Rahal and Danny Sullivan.
Brundle took to working the traffic and airflow like a veteran and, despite qualifying tenth at ‘Dega and getting involved in an early scuffle, a sharp lesson in bump-draughting helped him finish fifth: “I ended up at the back with Darrell Waltrip, who I got on well with,” he said. “I often wonder to myself how I knew about this, but I hooked up with him and started pushing him down the straight. He seemed pleased, so I did it again and we hauled ourselves up to the front. Then he stuck his nose straight down the front of that queue and hung me out to dry!
“It was like somebody had just pulled two of my plug leads off and I went backwards. I spoke to him afterwards and said: ‘What was that all about? We were working as a team.’ He just shrugged and replied: ‘That’s the way it goes fella’. You are only friends for a while in this business.”
Brundle made more ‘friends’ in the next race at Cleveland when he blitzed the field. He had an advantage on the road course, but typically found another little extra anyway.
“The cars had a big water can inside them to cool the brakes,” he admitted. “I realised that I could just feel the little micro-switch on the pedal with my foot. So I just drove the whole race by feeling this little switch to keep my brakes cool.”
His win notched one up for the Europeans, but didn’t go down well out West: “[Terry] Labonte hated me. I’ll never forget he got out of the car in parc ferme and asked: ‘Who won the race?’. Somebody said Brundle and he yelled: ‘I DON’T F*****G BELIEVE IT!’ and punched the top of his car.”
Brundle led the points heading into the last race at Michigan. But by now he may as well have been sponsored by Target for the amount of rivals gunning for him.
He started from pole, but after a few laps Earnhardt, ever The Intimidator, passed him on the apron. “Then I got this most elegant touch on the back,” remembers Brundle. “I heard each tyre pop individually as I wore through the tread.” He finished a lap down and fourth [sic] in the standings.
“I wanted to win [the series] because it would’ve been good kudos and I could probably have done with the money at the time. Even now I still look at the dates each year to see if there’s a chance I could do it, but they always clash with grands prix.”