Brian Redman's American adventures


Our editor-in-chief’s archive post about Brian Redman last week was right in suggesting that Redman may be the most underrated racing driver of all time. I had the pleasure of covering Brian’s Formula 5000 exploits in America in the mid-’70s and quickly discovered that he was not only a great driver but also very funny, unassuming man.

Redman with Derek Bell and Steve McQueen at Le Mans, 1970

Redman never had the desire to become a world champion. “You don’t necessarily have to win a race to be satisfied,” he once remarked. “As long as you’ve given your absolute all, whether you finish first or last, you get a tremendous feeling of well-being after a race. The grass is greener and the sky is bluer.”

Brian wanted to make a living at the sport he loved and he also wanted to survive through an era in which many of his team-mates and friends – Jo Siffert and Pedro Rodríguez among them – were killed at the zenith of their careers.

Redman survived many big accidents over his long career. His first big fright came at Spa in 1967 when he broke an arm after crashing heavily when his F1 Cooper broke its front suspension. Four years later he escaped from a burning Porsche 908/2 on the Targa Florio and in 1977 he broke his neck when his Haas/Hall Can-Am Lola flipped at St Jovite.

He counts himself a very lucky man to have survived a remarkable career and be able to reminisce with immense humour about a deathly dangerous time in motor racing. In later years Brian used to joke: “I’ve always thought I’d be killed racing or make enough money to retire. So far, neither has happened!”

F5000 at Mosport, 1976: Redman (1) and Alan Jones (64) at the front

Success in F5000

Brian’s three consecutive American F5000 championships with Haas/Hall in 1974, ’75 and ’76 were won against serious opposition from Vel’s Parnelli Jones, All American Racers, Shadow and trucking magnate Carl Hogan’s team. It was a great time for motor racing in America and Redman’s duels with Mario Andretti for the 1974 and ’75 F5000 titles were superb to watch, not only for the fierce racing between the two but for raucously big fields and plenty of other big names.

Redman endured one of the toughest weekends of his incredibly varied racing life at Riverside in 1975. Brian was battling with Andretti for the championship but on the opening day of practice for the F5000 season-closer he crashed heavily when a tyre failed.

“The last race of the year at Riverside was perhaps one of my worst experiences in motor racing,” Brian admits. “In the first practice session on Friday morning I was exiting the very fast Turn Nine. Just as I was in the apex, my left front tyre burst. The car shot across the track and hit the outside cement wall at over 100mph. My head bounced back and forth so hard it broke the plexiglass screen on the sides of the cockpit.”

Redman’s car was written off and he had to finish the weekend feeling a little woozy with a less competitive spare car. There was also a pair of IROC races at Riverside that weekend. The IROC was a great series at the time with top drivers from F1, NASCAR, Indycars and sports car racing competing against each other in Chevy Camaro stock cars. So despite his aches and pains Redman had plenty of work to do.

Johnny Rutherford dukes it out at Daytona with Ronnie Peterson in the ’75 IROC Camaros

“In the first IROC race, as usual, we were all in a bunch and a friendly NASCAR tap from Richard Petty sent me into a spin coming out of Turn Seven. Richard was kind enough to pick a safe spot and I spun harmlessly through the dirt and gravel before rejoining the race. But on the next lap, flying into Turn Nine, going at least 150 mph, the throttle stuck wide open. I went straight into the outside retaining wall, putting further strain on my neck muscles.”

The F5000 finale took place immediately after the IROC race making for a long afternoon for Redman. “I dragged myself out of the Camaro, my blue driver’s suit black with sweat,” he says. “I was exhausted from trying to keep my head up, but duty called and I went straight to the grid and climbed into the Lola F5000 car.

More on Brian Redman
February 2010 podcast with Brian Redman
Roebuck’s legends

Redman’s Daytona victories

“In the race it was all I could do to just drive around. We finished third, enough to take the championship and on the last lap, taking the usual look at the engine gauges, there was no oil pressure. Switching off, I was towed in. Examination showed a broken gudgeon pin had locked the oil pump. I was lucky again.”

Lucky but very, very good. One of the sport’s greatest drivers in fact, and a charming, eternally good-humoured gentleman.

Click here for more from Gordon Kirby

history  Dan Gurney with Porsche

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