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The Legacy Of Bud Moore
Forty Years After His Trans-Am Championship, The Memory Still Remains
By the time he was just twenty, he had already been through what many would never see in a lifetime. Walter “Bud” Moore Jr. had survived some of the bloodiest fighting in World War II combat to return home with five Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars. Even so, the newly returned veteran had to find a way to forge a living in his hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina. Using his mechanical skills and initiative, he and a childhood friend forged a living immediately after the war by buying junk cars and refurbishing, repairing, and reselling them.
While that might have been the end for some people's stories, a window of opportunity opened up for a young Bud Moore who had a burgeoning interest in automobile racing. With an uncanny ability to squeeze the most performance out of an automobile, his skills were in demand. Local racers flocked to him for work in the evenings, while he ran his garage and car lot during the day. While the money in NASCAR appeared to be a better bet than with other fly-by-night race promoters, Bud Moore stayed involved only on a part time basis—even after being an instrumental factor in Buck Baker's 1957 Grand National championship. Yet by 1961, stock car racing had grown to the point that Moore was racing full time with factory support from Pontiac. With Joe Weatherly as his driver, he won consecutive NASCAR championships during 1962-1963 while switching from Pontiac to Mercury.
It was during this time that association with Mercury proved to be pivotal in Bud Moore's career. When Ford pulled out of NASCAR in 1966, Mercury upped the ante by having Moore build a Comet, which was considerably smaller and much more aerodynamic than the big fullsized Galaxies that Ford had been fielding. The car was instantly competitive and won some major races, which put Moore even more firmly on the radar screen of Lincoln-Mercury's corporate brass.
While this was going on, Lincoln-Mercury was determined to grab its share of the growing ponycar market with its then-new '67 Mercury Cougar. With Bud Moore already under contract, plans were quickly developed to have him spearhead Lincoln-Mercury's effort in SCCA Trans-Am racing, where it would go head-to-head against the Ford Mustangs of Carroll Shelby and the Chevrolet Camaros of Roger Penske. Moore had four cars done and was testing at Virginia International Raceway by the end of 1966 with Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones and Ed Leslie as his drivers.
As the 1967 season started, Moore's new Mercury Cougars weren't a factor right away, but as the season wore on, they gave everyone all they could handle, finishing just two points behind the Mustang in their championship year. It was an impressive showing for the rookie team, especially in light of the fact that Carroll Shelby's Mustangs already had several years' worth of development work behind them. Yet, as a reward for that, funding for the Mercury Cougar Trans-Am program was abruptly shut off. Ford was not going to have an in-house rival beat the Mustang.