Mother Mueller: Two generations

Father and son are both "shoes" of note and have greatly impacted motorsports

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Lee Mueller | The John Mueller Collection

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

Lee Mueller and the Huffaker team celebrate a victory lap at the 1979 SCCA Runoffs at Road Atlanta | The John Mueller Collection

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.”

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A popular bumper sticker from the day | The John Mueller Collection

Lee ‘Mother’ Mueller passed away in May of 2001. His legacy continues in his son, John.

Lee Mueller prepares to go out in the TR7 at Road Atlanta in 1979 | The John Mueller Collection

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 Mueller consults KTM GT4 driver Nicolai Elghanayan prior to a session | Muellerized… photo

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.

John Mueller on his way to victory in the Kastner Cup at Buttonwillow, California. Note the tribute helmet | Tom Stahler photo

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.

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Owner Curt Johnston (Center, behind car) looks on as John Mueller sits down in the office for a busy race | Tom Stahler photo

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.

Tony Garmey in the Pete Brock-designed TR250K | Tom Stahler photo

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.”

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The fearsome TR8 power plant | Tom Stahler photo

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.

Tony Garmey in the TR250K tries to fight off John Mueller in the TR8 | Tom Stahler photo

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 Mueller.

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.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Tom for the article. Great background on the Mueller racing heritage. Check out Joe Huffaker’s drive in the Huffaker Triumph TR7 from last to P3 during the Sunday Kastner Cup Reunion race at Mid-Ohio on June 28, 2020: https://youtu.be/oT-TNLzuroA

  2. Refreshing to see an article about some of the other sides of racing, 90% of car interested lovers never hear, see, or get to experience, many levels of car racing. Thank you best article from you all year!!! Hope to read and see much more. SCCA has always been one of my loves , never see any of it in many many years. Why are we being cheated? Sure there are thousands of enthusiasts that would welcome this.

    • You won’t get cheated with my memories, Wallis. I grew up in SCCA racing: The Can-Am, F5000, SingleSeat Can-Am. I was lucky to have an “other side of the fence” experience through my father’s long association with Carl Haas as his PR guy. I have several tales that appeared in publications such as Vintage Motorsport Magazine over the years.

  3. Wonderful article about Mueller,Kastner and Huffaker. I am a child of the fifties and sixties So Cal sports car scene. My parents had two Singers in the 50s. Then a 56 Morgan 4 place drophead. Our family car was a 55 Jaguar MKVII, customized by George Barris. I still have that car. My dad was an attorney for Carrol Shelby. He had a 289 Cobra. Shelby also lent him the 3rd 427 produced for about a year.He went to LeMans with Shelby in 65.He was also Dan Gurneys attorney at the same time. My mom was also a “Car Guy”.When my parents broke about that time, my mom bought a 61 Aston Martin DB4 from Haskell Wexler, the cinematographer. Later she had DB2/4 Drophead.l had a 64Pontiac Gto,a 64 Lancia Flavia,66 Cooper S,69 Europa, 65 Datsun Fair Lady,etc.My uncle, Roger Slowi, had Cupid Doll, the companion Morgan to Lew Spencer’s Baby Doll.He also worked for Shelby in the parts department at the showroom near the factory.Over the years we’ve had a number of interesting sports cars and belonged to a bunch of different clubs. In 1970, my dad bought a Triumph GT6. He wanted a 240Z , but they were impossible to get. Two years later he sold it to me. About that time VARA was formed and my mom and I were charter members. Even though I didn’t have a vintage car , the club let run the Triumph because we didn’t have enough members to pay for the track rental. In stock form the car didn’t handle well. I had a friend with GT6 race car and he taught me about suspension setup. I put Mueller springs and Koni shocks on the car. I had the wheels widened and was running 8.5 front and 10.0 Goodyear Blue Streak slicks on the street. The street tires of the day were nothing like what is available today.Wow! What a difference. I had no idea of the potential before that. That started me on decades of up upgrading the suspensions on my cars. I also bought headers, radiators and other bits from Mueller. Your article brought back so many memories .

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