There are many racing dynasties, made up of passion and
drive that span generations. Once the bug hits, it’s hard to shake – even more
so when you have been around it all your life. When your father is an SCCA National
Champion driver with a go-fast parts business, it’s hard to be sheltered from
the call of the wild. The lug nut doesn’t fall far from the wheel, it is said.
John Mueller was witness to his father’s successes from the time he was very small. His father, Lee Mueller, was a national champion in D-Production driving Triumphs, Jensen Healys and Jaguars. Lee’s pro career driving Mazda RX-7s and Toyota Celicas in IMSA’s GTU class yielded wins and podiums as well. It was a career that spanned across three decades from the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s.
One of Mueller’s most notable wins was at the 1979 SCCA Runoffs at Road Atlanta. The Joe Huffaker-prepared TR7 was the class of the D-Production field.
In 1965, Lee Mueller founded Mueller Fabricators. They
produced performance aluminum flywheels, clutches and headers. The proprietor,
on top of a day job in aerospace, Lee would be fielding calls, day and night,
from customers without complaint. Then, at numerous SCCA national meets,
despite having his own focus on driving Kas Kastner’s cars, Mueller would spend
his time on the cold side of the pit wall checking in on all his clients,
making sure that
his parts were working. On several instances he was called
out for “Mothering” his clientele. This
would grow to become a term of endearment, “Mother Mueller.”
Lee ‘Mother’ Mueller passed away in May of 2001. His legacy continues in his son, John.
In Santa Ana, California, the junior Mueller, John, is a very busy motorsports professional. John’s company, Muellerized…, widely known for their great tuning tricks with suspensions is a full-blown race shop, providing customers with race-winning and street performance equipment and installations. He is also the Chief Engineer and Race Strategist for the Marco Polo Motorsports/KTM team in the GT4 America Series with driver Nicolai Elghanayan. Muellerized… prepares, transports and crews the team cars throughout the year.
John, like his dad, is a heck of a shoe as well. In 2019, John
was reunited with his father’s 1979 championship-winning Huffaker Triumph TR7
and 1980 TR8 race cars in the Kastner Cup at Buttonwillow Raceway in
Buttonwillow, California and a subsequent race at Watkins Glen International in
Watkins Glen, New York.
Joe Huffaker, who built the cars, was one of the most
successful constructors in the history of the Sports Car Club of America. In
2017 he was inducted into their Hall of Fame. His son, Joe Jr., continues the
tradition. Even with a new owner of the two Lee Mueller cars, Huffaker still
prepares and maintains them.
Both cars are now owned by Californian, Curt Johnston, who is an avid Triumph enthusiast and amateur vintage racer. He bought both cars over the last several years and was very enthusiastic about Mueller racing his dad’s car — 40 years later. The Kastner Cup, a feature of the Vintage Auto Racing Association’s (VARA) British Extravaganza weekend, proved a perfect reunion for the cars and the driver.
Kas Kastner, the namesake of the race is essentially ‘The
Triumph Whisperer.’ While working for Triumph’s North American distribution
company in the 1950s and 1960s, he developed many go fast parts that made for
grand success in sports car racing. In 1963, he prepared three TR-4s that
finished 1-2-4 in the 2.5 liter class in the 12 Hours of Sebring. He is an
almost Holy figure in the Triumph world. He also worked with Stingray Corvette
and Shelby Daytona designer, Pete Brock to build the iconic Triumph TR250K.
Both Pete Brock, Kas Kastner and the TR250K were on hand for the race weekend.
According to the Kastner Cup’s official site, “The Kastner
Cup is a race held each year at a different racetrack across the United States
and Canada, specifically for Triumph and Triumph-powered, race-prepared cars. The
Kastner Cup winner does not get any money and no points towards a championship.
The true prize is the Kastner Cup trophy being handed to the winner by R.W.
“Kas” Kastner himself. Every racer in the field wants the approving handshake
and the trophy displayed at their home for the coming year, until having to
hand it off the next year.
“The Kastner Cup Champion is chosen by Kas Kastner himself.
His decision of who the Champion will be is based half on the presentation of
the car and the driver’s
enthusiasm for vintage racing and the other half is based on performance on the
track. Many times the Champion has not been the first place finisher, according
to scoring and timing as a result.”
The original intent was for John Mueller to race the TR7 —
however due to a very rare ignition part that had gone bad, a scramble in the
Huffaker garage still allowed John Mueller to take the green flag — albeit in
Lee’s 1980 TR-8. Joe Huffaker Jr. generously gave up the TR8 seat.
There was an early dice between Mueller’s TR8 and the 250K, prepped
and driven by Tony Garmey and then it was all Mueller. Wearing a tribute
Simpson ‘Bandit’ Helmet in Lee’s livery, John took spectators back to 1979 when
Lee took the DP-class of the 1979 SCCA Runoffs at Road Atlanta by storm with a
flag-to-flag win from second on the grid.
History came full circle and emotions swirled at Buttonwillow Raceway, as the son, crossed the finish line, victorious, in father’s ground-pounding TR8 with a field of 30-plus ancient examples of the Coventry-built/American-tuned sports cars left in the dust.
A few weeks later, Mueller repeated his feat with an overall
win at Watkins Glen. These were special moments for the Huffakers, Johnston and
John continues to race Mazda RX-7s in SCCA events, when not helping his clients win races. In 2020 at the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association’s (SVRA) meet at Mid Ohio, Joe Huffaker Jr. finally piloted the now-repaired TR7 to a second place – after starting last and driving through the field in The Kastner Cup.