Modified Mustangs & Fords
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.
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Bud Moore returned to his roots in 1968 and, with his leftover Trans-Am Cougars, won the NASCAR Grand American championship for ponycars with Tiny Lund, while still fielding cars at selected races on the Grand National circuit. In the meantime, Roger Penske's Sunoco Camaros were nearly invincible on the SCCA Trans-Am tour at that time, as they took the 1968 championship away from Carroll Shelby's Mustangs. This was a time when success on the track greatly affected sales on the showroom floor, so Moore may not have been all that surprised when Ford called him to come back to SCCA Trans-Am with Parnelli Jones and George Follmer as his drivers.
While all of the car manufacturers capitalized on the popularity of Trans-Am racing with special edition ponycars such as the Camaro Z-28 and the AAAR 'Cuda, the Mustangs that Bud Moore started the 1969 season with weren't Boss 302s, but actually standard SportsRoof models. Once they were pulled off the production line, Kar Kraft of Brighton, Michigan, began preparation of these bodies in white by stripping them completely, running them through an acid bath for weight reduction and then re-welding factory joints and seams for greater strength. Full rollcages were installed, not only for driver safety, but also to square up the unibody chassis and provide rigidity and strength.
While Kar Kraft generally receives all of the credit for this initial work, there's little doubt that Bud Moore Engineering finished the process of converting these production cars into the race cars that they wanted. Every conceivable means of lightening the car was undertaken, from additional acid dipping to sand blasting to cutting away excess metal. The goal wasn't to get the car down to the 2,900 weight minimum, but to go under that as far as possible. Once done, weight was added back in such a way that the car would arrive at the track with as close to a 50/50 weight distribution ratio as possible, which was a challenge with the Mustang's long nose and short rear deck. Suspension mounting points were relocated, larger sway bars were added and bigger brakes were installed—all standard fare in building a race car.
Of particular note, however, were some of the significant changes that were purposefully done to be less apparent to the eye. Carburetor setups were carefully revised to compensate for g-forces that affected fuel delivery. To lower the ride height and center of gravity, the floorboards were sectioned for additional clearance for the exhaust system so the car could ride lower. The rear seat was relocated to cover traction bars and even the front radiator support was chopped by an inch to drop the nose slightly to provide a reduced frontal area for better aerodynamics. Careful consideration was given to different gear ratios within the transmissions themselves, as well as what ring and pinion was inside the differential so that the car could get out of a corner as fast and clean as possible. Suspension alignments were also carefully calculated to optimize cornering as well. Even the choice of tire was a strategic decision—Firestone was selected over Goodyear for the Bud Moore Mustangs because of certain perceived advantages.
By the time the tire smoke had cleared from the 1969 racing season, Bud Moore had finished the year with great success, but still fell just short of the Team Penske Camaros that won the Trans-Am championship. During the course of the year, the Mustangs were undoubtedly faster, but a bad run of racing luck that included mechanical failures, tire issues, and one unfortunate accident that decimated the majority of the Mustangs running at one event. At that time, Chevrolet pulled even with Ford with two manufacturer's championships apiece.
That set the stage for the 1970 Trans-Am race season, which is still arguably called the greatest year of competition ever seen between America's ponycars. Even so, things looked rather bleak for Ford road racing at the beginning of the year. Shelby had dropped out completely while Lee Iacocca had slashed Ford's racing budget by 75 percent. Bud Moore stayed the course, however, with Parnelli Jones and George Follmer. The rules were significantly different, as the cars would have to run with heavier weight, less carburetion and new wheel standards. With a new butterscotch orange livery (to make the cars more visible), new bodywork and some subtle change to the front and rear suspension arrangements, the '70 Bud Moore Mustangs started the year fresh with what turned out to be some significant improvements over the prior year's edition.
That was no doubt a good thing, as the competition looked stiffer than even before. Team Penske was running under the AMC banner this time around. Chevrolet was back while Dodge, Plymouth and Pontiac were mounting serious bids for the manufacturer's title as well. Even so, Bud Moore's Mustangs won six of eleven events to break Ford's tie with Chevrolet in manufacturer's championships, giving the blue oval the advantage 3-2. While that supremacy meant much to the Mustang faithful, Ford pulled its funding for good about a month later.
If he hadn't done so already, Bud Moore endeared himself to Ford road racing fans even further by carrying on during the 1971 season as best he could without factory funding. Parnelli Jones drove a handful of races before Moore sold his car for operating funds, leaving George Follmer and then Peter Gregg as his drivers with a race team that was struggling to make ends meet. Despite winning a handful of races with Follmer behind the wheel, Moore simply couldn't carry the weight of fielding a cutting edge championship contender any longer.
History, however, wasn't done with Bud Moore. In 1972, NASCAR was looking to switch to small-blocks as a means of keeping speeds down in an effort to enhance safety. Moore's R&D experience with the Boss 302 and 351 Cleveland engines during his time away from NASCAR had him right at the leading edge of stock car racing technology once again. That, coupled with the demise of Holman-Moody, opened new doors for Bud Moore, as he was on the forefront of Ford's efforts in the stock car wars.
Bud Moore would go on to work with some of the sport's most legendary drivers, ranging from Darrell Waltrip to Dale Earnhardt. Even though the wins became fewer in number with the rise of NASCAR's multi-car mega teams, his influence on the sport was undeniable. Even today, he remains the only person in NASCAR history to leave the series and then return with a major auto racing championship outside of stock car racing. In honor of that legacy while in his med-eighties, Bud Moore was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2009. Most recently, he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame's second-ever class in 2011.
While Bud Moore may have made it there on the strength of his stock car resume alone, it would be hard to discount that Ford's Mustang helped carry him there, too.