Bud Moore Engineering - Reflecting With Bud
Bud Moore Reminisces About Parnelli Jones, Bad Firestone Tires, And Winning The '70 Trans-Am Championship
For nearly four decades, the name Bud Moore was synonymous with Ford racing, as he built and campaigned cars for some of the best NASCAR drivers in the history of the sport. By the time he sold Bud Moore Engineering in 1999, Bud Moore cars had won 63 NASCAR and Winston Cup races (seventh all-time) and 43 poles (ninth all-time).
But more importantly to Mustang enthusiasts, Bud Moore built and campaigned Boss 302 Mustangs for the '69-'71 Trans-Am seasons. With drivers Parnelli Jones and George Follmer (along with a second team campaigned by Shelby), the Boss 302s came up short in 1969. But Bud's team returned with a vengeance in 1970 to win 6 of the 11 races to take the '70 Trans-Am Championship.
Born on May 25, 1925, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, Bud Moore was a war hero before he became a racing hero. At D-Day during World War II, he was one of the first to land at Utah Beach. Serving in the Third Army with General Patton, Moore went all the way to Berlin and returned home in 1945 with two Bronze Stars and five Purple Hearts.
Back home, he found himself "tinkerin' " with cars, and opened a shop so he could fix used cars to resell. In a June 1994 Super Ford magazine interview, Moore explained, in his deep Southern dialect, how the ball started him rolling toward racing. "We done a lot of work on what the bootleggers called 'moonshine cars.' All I did was work on them. I don't even know who drove 'em. All I know is we never had one of them stopped."
By the late '40s, Moore was running three or four times a week at local tracks and competing in races staged by Bill France's new National Association of Stock Car Racing, or NASCAR. In 1961, he created Bud Moore Engineering, with Joe Weatherly driving Pontiacs to championships in 1962 and 1963. By the end of 1963, Moore had switched his allegiance to Ford's Mercury Division to campaign cars for Weatherly and Darrell Dieringer. In 1967, Mercury asked Moore to build and race Cougars in the SCCA's new Trans-Am series. With drivers like Parnelli Jones, Dan Gurney, Ed Leslie, and Peter Revson, Mercury would finish second in the championship standings, just two points behind Mustang. Mercury dropped out of Trans-Am for 1968, but Moore and his Cougars jumped to NASCAR's short-lived Grand American series, where Moore won the championship.
His road-racing experience paid off when Ford came calling for him to campaign a pair of new Boss 302 Mustangs for 1969. Putting his NASCAR business on hold, he dove full-time into Trans-Am to develop and build red, white, and black Mustangs for Parnelli Jones (No. 15) and George Follmer (No. 16). On the other side of the country, Shelby American was doing the same with blue and white Boss 302s for drivers Horst Kwech and Peter Revson.
Ford's four-car attack jumped into an early championship lead by winning four of the first five races (three by Moore cars). But problems with the Firestone tires prevented the Mustangs from winning another race, and Ford eventually lost the championship by 14 points to Roger Penske's Camaro driven by Mark Donahue.
For 1970, Moore returned to Trans-Am with new '70 Boss 302 Mustangs and the entire effort on his shoulders as Ford eliminated the Shelby team entirely. The school-bus-yellow Mustangs of Jones and Follmer dominated, winning the first four races and six total to win the Trans-Am championship over new rival American Motors. Jones also won the Drivers' Championship.
Ford withdrew support from all forms of racing at the end of 1970, but Moore continued as an independent during the '71 Trans-Am season. With drivers Follmer and Peter Gregg, along with sponsorship help from contractor S.S. Jacobs, Moore's Mustangs managed to win three races and finish second to the factory-backed American Motors' Javelins.
He returned to NASCAR in 1972. Over the next 20 years, Fords built by Bud Moore Engineering would win races for a who's who of NASCAR's top drivers, including Buddy Baker, Bobby Allison, Benny Parsons, Dale Earnhardt, Ricky Rudd, Geoff Bodine, and Morgan Shepherd. In 1999, Moore sold his operation to Fenley Racing.
Now 80, Moore spends most of his time "running my cattle farm" at his home south of Spartanburg. He was inducted into the Stock Car Racing Hall of Fame in 2002.
MM: You were running NASCAR in the early '60s. How did you get involved with Ford's Trans-Am program?BM: Well, I've been racing since 1947. I'd run modified Fords up until about 1951, and I ran some Fords in '56. We ran Pontiacs in 1960 through part of '63. Then we got hooked up with Lincoln-Mercury in the last of '63. We ran Grand National [as NASCAR's top division was known then] with Joe Weatherly, Darrell Dieringer, Billy Wade, and several more of 'em. But then Mercury wanted to run the Cougar in 1967 in the Trans-Am series. Fran Hernandez, who was over the Mercury racing program, had us build a couple of Cougars. We had Parnelli Jones, George Follmer, Dan Gurney, Peter Revson, Ed Leslie-those were all the drivers that drove them Cougars. We ran awful good in the '67 Trans-Am series. We lost the championship at the last race in-I think it was Kent, Washington-because of dead batteries. What happened, Ford had made some smaller batteries-not much bigger than a motorcycle battery-to save weight. Now on the pit stops, you had to cut your engine off, then the engine had to fire on itself [after fueling]. Well, George was running second so we brought him in first. And it wouldn't crank. So we had to push him behind the wall to put a battery in it. And the same thing happened to Parnelli. That cost us the race and the Points Championship.
In 1968, they wouldn't let us run the Cougars because we were out-running the Mustangs. I think Shelby ran the Mustangs in '68, and Penske [who built the Camaros] tore their butt up real bad. In the fall of 1968, Jacque Passino from Ford called me and said, "I need you to come to Detroit. We need to talk over a couple of things." So I went up there and they said they wanted me to take over the Trans-Am series for 1969. Said they were testing the 1969 Mustangs right then in Riverside, California, and they couldn't stand to be beat like they were the past year. So I took over the Mustang program in the fall of '68.
MM: In 1969, Mustangs won four out of the first five races, with your cars winning three of them. Then Mustangs didn't win any more the rest of the season. What happened?BM: We had tire problems. Like Parnelli was talking here the other day. He said, "You know, if we'd made Firestone fix those tires we wouldn't have lost that series." What hurt was the fact that Parnelli was a Firestone distributor. We hollered with them and this and that, but they said, "There ain't nothing wrong with the tires." If we'd just put our foot down a little bit harder and had done something to the tires, like Parnelli said, we'd have won three or four more races without any problems.
MM: But then you won the championship in 1970.BM: Yep. In the fall of '69, we got on Firestone's butt real hard and told them to fix the tires or we were going to run Goodyears. So they decided they better fix 'em and we won the championship hands-down in 1970. We had some Mustangs for the '71 season-in fact, I had already got a couple or three to build for 1971. That's when Ford got out of racing, in the fall of 1970, so we went racing as an independent.
I was the one, you know, who started working on the small-block engines in NASCAR because we had so much experience with the 302. We pioneered the 351 Cleveland in '72 and '73, and we were competing against the big-block motors, which were running restrictor plates. We ran awful good with 'em. And France decided, and told Chevrolet in the early part of 1973, "You better get your small-block ready because we're going to switch from 427s and 429s to 358 cubic-inch." So we did. That's one thing that kept us going, because we did all the experimental work from 1971 and 1972 on the Cleveland small-block.
MM: So working with the Trans-Am Boss 302s, with their Cleveland heads, helped you in Winston Cup?BM: Oh, yeah, that's one thing that helped us real strong, you know, as far as what we could do with the cylinder heads and stuff.
MM: In late 1968 when you started with the Boss 302 program, did Ford build the engines for you?BM: Oh, no, we built the engines ourselves. We done all the experimental work. In fact, we're the ones that built the mini-plenum intake, a box-type manifold we ran in 1970 on the 302. After that, I pioneered a box-type manifold for the 351.
MM: Ford gave you complete '69 Mustangs and your guys tore them down to build them into race cars, right?BM: We built the race cars from scratch. Now, we did have some help out of Ford; they helped build some rear ends for us-hubs, safety equipment, and all this kind of stuff. We had a couple of chassis engineers from Ford who gave us a hand. We all worked together on it. We came up with a real good package.
MM: Did you share any information with the Shelby team?BM: Well, they ran their program and I ran ours. I never was asked to let out any secrets as far as Shelby was concerned. I guess Passino and them up there at Ford figured they'd let each person run their own team.
MM: Lee Morse worked on the Boss 302 engine at Ford, then later became the director of Ford SVO. Did you know him in the '60s?BM: Yeah, I'm the one that got him a job at SVO when Ford came back strong in 1980-'81. When Michael Kranefuss came over from Germany [to oversee SVO], he came to Spartanburg to talk to me about what we needed for the 351. I said, "Well, the first thing you need to do is get some good people up there. You need to find Lee Morse, wherever he is at Ford, and get him over there." Mose Nowland was the other one. He knew all about how to get cylinder blocks made, so they got him. That's how we all started working together and got things rolling.
MM: In the '60s, NASCAR competitors were known for stretching the rules. Did you bring some of that to Trans-Am?BM: Well, you know [laughs], we done everything we could, what we could get by with. It was pretty hard to get by with anything on the bodies. They'd let you make a little bit of clearance on the fenders. SCCA was pretty smart. They'd go to a school where they had mechanical engineering and they'd get engineering students, telling them, "Alright, now go down to the Ford place, or Lincoln-Mercury place, or whatever, and measure up a Mustang or a Cougar or whatever, and do the same thing on a Camaro, on the Plymouth Barracudas." So when you came through the inspection line, the students got out there and they measured that car. You didn't get by them too much. They did allow a little on the fenders, but not much.
MM: We remember one report that they were weighing Parnelli's '70 car and it came in under weight. The write-up said you noticed the car was missing its air cleaner, so you ran back to the pits to get it. With the air cleaner on, the car made the weight. Were the cars that close?BM: We had to weigh, as well as I can remember, 2,700 pounds. That was with an empty fuel tank. We had them where they weighed 2,700 pounds right on the nose. What happened was, when the race was over, you pulled in and they weighed the cars. If it weighed over 2,700 pounds, we was fine. But that particular situation, we rolled across the scales and we were a little on the light side. And when we put the air cleaner on, it was right.
MM: Judging by some of the photos we've seen of you in the garage and pits, you were a hands-on owner.BM: I done whatever it took. Didn't make any difference what. I done whatever I could and whatever effort I could put into it to help out all the way. I think that's another reason why our crew worked so good, because we all worked together. It didn't make any difference to me if I was cleaning the windshield or using the jack or air wrench.
MM: Who were some of your crew members back then?BM: Well, that's hard to say. We had different groups, kept changing them all the time. My oldest son Darrell, he ran the engine room, along with Daniel Fowler and a couple or three more of 'em back there. Ken Myler was the shop foreman. We had a good crew, and they all worked together real well.
MM: In 1969, you had two four-barrels, and in 1970 the rules limited you to a single four-barrel. Did that cost you much horsepower?BM: With two 4500s on it-that's what they were, four-barrels-we had a little bit more torque and power. But the problem was, it was unusable power. It didn't run around the racetrack real good and clean. So during the '69 season, we was working on that mini-plenum box manifold. When we got it perfected, we'd take a car and go test with different manifolds. And we found out we could run 11/42, 31/44 second faster around the racetrack with the box manifold instead of the two big four-barrels. It was just a better combination for road racing.
MM: Did you ever do any testing with the Autolite Inline four-barrel?BM: Yeah, we tested that too. It didn't do too bad, but it wouldn't compete with that little box manifold.
MM: Ford had the rear spoiler as an option on the street Boss 302s. You didn't use them in '69 but you used them in '70. Did they make any difference?BM: It helped a little, but very little. That was just something that was an eye-catcher. Just like in '70, we had the cars painted school-bus yellow. We changed to that color because Ford wanted them to stand out. If we were painted red and there was two or three other red ones out there, you couldn't tell which one was which. So we painted 'em all school-bus yellow, and when they came around, everybody knew which car it was.
MM: When did you start using the number 15?BM: The 15 came along about 1967. See, Parnelli ran for Stroppe out on the West Coast, driving Mercurys in USAC. His number was 15. So when Parnelli came over to drive the Mustang, we decided we'd make his car 15 and the other car would be 16. So from then on, all up through the whole time I was racing-through NASCAR and the Winston Cup series and everything else-I ran the number 15.
MM: In 1970, the side stripes were mounted lower on the body than on the street cars. Why was that?BM: We did that on account of the number. See, when you put the number in the round circle, we didn't want the black stripe to be part of that white circle. The number had to be a certain size and it had to be in a circle. So we moved the number up as high as we could and we put the black decal stripe on below it, so it wouldn't run through it. It balanced out and worked real well.
MM: Did you ever meet Larry Shinoda, who designed the Boss stripes?BM: Yeah, I met him several times. I'm sure he came to some of the races, but I can't exactly remember.
MM: There was a lot of travel involved to get to all of the races. How did you manage that?BM: We had some help from the SCCA, talking them into running all of the races on the West Coast at the same time. Then we'd come back to the middle part of the country and then on the East Coast. So when we'd go out to the West Coast, we'd run two or three races out there before we came back to the shop-unless they got tore up real bad or something other happened and we'd have to get another car. But we always carried a spare car.
MM: What was it like working with Parnelli?BM: He was about as enjoyable as anybody I worked with. We worked together real good. He'd go out and run the car, and we'd talk about what would help it a little bit here and there. If things weren't going exactly right, we'd make a few changes to where it made him happy, that's all. I remember one time I had a new-type carburetor I wanted to try. It showed a little more power on the dyno. So I reworked everything on it and I put it on the car. Didn't say nothing to Parnelli about it. He went out and run a lap or two, then he come in and said, "I want my damn carburetor back."
I said, "What's wrong with that one?"
He said, "It's not smooth, and it's not running through the corner exactly like the other one did."
I said," Well, we need to work on it."
And he said, "Let's just put mine back on." So I had to put the carburetor he'd been running back on. He knew right quick it wasn't the carburetor he had to start with.
MM: He was a pretty aggressive driver. BM: One thing I always heard him say-he used to call Donahue and all them "Fruit Cuppers." He'd say, "Ain't no Fruit Cupper going to out-run me if I can help it." And they didn't, either.
MM: Winning the Trans-Am championship must be one of the highlights of your career.BM: We won the Grand National championship in 1962 and 1963. We won that Grand American championship in 1968. Then winning the Trans-Am championship in 1970, it was one of the biggest things in my career. The next thing, I guess, was winning the Daytona 500 in 1978 with Bobby Allison.
MM: We remember seeing that pile of wrecked Trans-Am Boss 302 Mustangs behind your shop. Can you believe what they're worth today?BM: Somebody told me those cars are worth about $300,000 to $400,000. I was out at Monterey last year [for a Trans-Am Reunion] and I saw one of the '69 Trans-Am Mustangs that Vic Edelbrock had out there. And I saw some other '69s and '70s. They have accounted for all the Mustangs we ran in '69 and '70 except one. That car went to Mexico City. Some Mexicans bought that car and it ran a race down there. They wrecked it and brought it back, and we fixed it. They left and I don't know whatever happened to that car. Nobody else does either.
What amazed me was the car that George wrecked at Laguna Seca. That car was tore up pretty bad. We stripped it down and it sat out there back of the shop for, oh, I don't know how many years. A guy come by one day and he said, "I'd like to have some parts off that old Mustang sitting back there." I said, "There ain't no parts worth much on it." Ken Myler sold him that thing. I don't know what he got for it or how they done the deal. He wanted that thing bad. I think he restored it.
MM: Any other stories from your Trans-Am days?BM: Well, I might be able to think up some more by Carlisle.