Interview by Richard Jenkins
RJ: What initially attracted you to motorsport?
BM: My Grandfather Nick Nichols was a pilot and racer from New York State. I believe it was back in 1927, that Wilson Washing Machines sponsored his race from New York to Los Angeles trying to beat the cross country record.
He and his co-driver had it beaten until they reached Yuma, in Arizona. They were slightly behind the timed schedule that at that time allowed access on the one way road across the dunes. They missed the departure time for Westbound travel and then they had to wait six hours.
There?s a picture which hung proudly in his home, which was of - I think - an open touring Durant emblazoned with Wilson sponsorship and then the recorded time below. So racing was always kept close in the family.
RJ: You attended the San Diego military academy. Was a military career something you initially looked at?
BM: Yes, I was quite keen on military flight training.
RJ: What is the background to your rodeo past, was it something that youngsters just did in Arizona or was it something you specifically wanted to do?
BM: My paternal grandfather was a rancher and land developer in Arizona and New Mexico. So when I was growing up, I rode horses anyway. Sometimes they buck but I got very good at riding them when they did so. Rodeo then allowed me to get paid to doing that, riding them whilst bucking, plus I liked winning!
RJ: Michael Andretti was the dominant champion in the year you raced in Formula Super Vee - how good was he and although his path was somewhat laid out considering his name, did he strike you as being a future champion at the top level?
BM: I liked Michael. He was focused and reserved - or maybe it was him just being guarded - but in private moments, away from the spotlight or the crowds, his love of racing came out to his crew and close friends. I can say yes - in hindsight - that he was destined to become a champion, but his name came with a lot of pressure to succeed. When he was in the car he handled pressure very well, he often drove hard but it was clean racing.
RJ: You then moved into Trans-Am - was there no other way to progress in single-seaters for you at that time?
BM: I had limited sponsorship at the time. Tom Gloy offered to run me in his old car because he had just signed a two car team with Ford and Lyn St James. The Ford Motor Company then rebranded the cars as Mercury Capri?s. Running Gloy?s old Mustang added a little money and also kept some of Ford?s corporate people happy.
However, the old parts did not last long. Tom and Tony Oddo did what they could but when engines began blowing up when we unloaded out of the trailer, we called it a day after five races.
I did get a chance in CART with Dicky Hoffman's March at Mid-Ohio though, but the steering rack kept freezing up, plus I was too big for the windscreen of the car, so it kept trying to pull my head off when I wasn?t turning!
I did once unintentionally screw up one of Mario Andretti?s fast laps, resulting in a deserved hand gesture from one of my heroes! Because he knew me, Michael may have prevented a pit lane ass-kicking by his aforementioned father! A second chance then came back in Indycar at the Caesar Palace Grand Prix for Herb Wysard?s outfit. I got about 10 laps of practice before I lost the engine and then that opportunity was over.
RJ: You competed for three years in the American Racing Series - who, out of your competitors in the three seasons you were in it, impressed you the most or made you think that they would go on to achieve real success?
BM: My team-mate, Juan Manuel Fangio II and also Steve Millen.
RJ: You had two really serious crashes during your career - the one that happened in 1990 where you suffered concussion - did that put you off racing, or did that encourage you to return as soon as possible?
BM: I wanted to get back in a car so much. The head injury was significant and I knew I had to take time off. Tom Gloy and I picked some young guys to replace me in the Corvette Challenge. I asked my friend Juan (Manuel Fangio II) to borrow my seat in the American Racing Series as he was out of an open-wheel drive at the time, plus he was also down on sponsorship that year. I had some which could be passed onto him. I knew he was the best driver I had seen at that level and he deserved the opportunity.
Fangio told me his success in my car got him looked at by (Dan) Gurney and Toyota, but like I said, I knew he would achieve real success, so the concussion was lucky for us both in a way.
RJ: Wikipedia says you're of Australian nationality - is this the case?
BM: I have never even been to Australia! Almost all of my crew chiefs and many of my crew have been from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. After so many years, reporters confused my grammar for an Australian accent. I tried to correct the false assumption many times but my crew guys always got a kick out of it, and perpetuated the myth. They designated me an honorary Australian, which I proudly accepted in gratitude for all they did for me, but no, I am American!
RJ: In Trans-Am you raced - largely - in a Ford Mustang. How does driving that car compare to other cars you've raced?
BM: Big everything - big horsepower, a big Car. You know, sliding and banging can be fun! I was, in truth, out of my element being closed in, in a racing car with doors but I just wanted to race and Tom Gloy gave me a chance.
For me, open-wheel finesse, when you?re on the edge, when you can dance and become part of a machine and try to get that perfect lap is when you know that you are alive. I never quite felt that with Trans-Am.
RJ: How did the chance to race at the Indianapolis 500 come about?
BM: It all started with a call from an engineer called Keith Leighton and a crew chief called Brian Nott, saying to me that they could get their hands on an ex-Penske Reynard and that Ron Hemelgarn had agreed to run it out of his team for Indy.
They could give me one day at the Texas Motor Speedway to get comfortable, because I had been out of a car for so long at that stage. They said this was my chance and they believed I could do it.
But they also said ?by the way can you get some sponsorship, as we need it?? Well, I did get it, the kicker was the sponsor pledged to pay by laps completed and air time. I got a loan on my house so we had a chance to try and qualify to make the show, however Keith did not tell me the car had failed to qualify the previous two years!
RJ: What did it mean to you personally to compete at the Indianapolis 500?
BM: The best answer came from Gene Hackman in the movie The Replacements;
?Every athlete dreams of getting a second chance. There is no tomorrow?
For a driver, Indy is a goal in itself. We may not realize how big it is until we get there or fully appreciate all its history until we leave. Its? impact on our lives, and those we love and shared it with, last all the laps of our lives.
RJ: How difficult is it for a driver to focus when a competitor is killed in a crash as Scott Brayton was in 1996?
BM: I knew Scott as a friend outside the race track. I was being interviewed on TV in the pit lane when the crash occurred and they replayed the accident on the screen in front of me and asked me what happened. I saw the tire go down and hoped he only had stars in his eyes.
Later that day I did a radio interview with a Tucson station and they asked the same question you have just done. I could only liken it to the fighter pilots at Davis Monthan Air Base in Arizona say; ?what we do is dangerous, what we do is who we are?.
I was okay when I got into the car on race day and saw a Scott Brayton decal on it because I believed that?s what he would do if it was the other way round.
RJ: Obviously the split between the IRL and CART allowed opportunities to some drivers, which naturally obviously anyone would take if you can. That said, did it disappoint you that having got a chance to appear at Indy that you weren't racing against all the top drivers in America?
BM: No, I was proud to be part of the inaugural Indy Racing League. I think it ended up being the fastest qualifying field in history. I was the fastest qualifier on the third day and topped two practice sessions as well.
It was good because many drivers without millions in sponsorship dollars actually got a chance to compete; like they did in the old days. In other words, the fastest 33 made the race, not the richest or best sponsored. I believe there were some top drivers still involved though. I know Hemelgarn got some calls of congratulations after the race from CART owners saying Buddy (Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner) would have been hard to beat on that day.
RJ: Do you still follow the sport?
BM: I do and I was trying to check up on old friends when I found your site. It is like going down memory lane for me, thanks!
Interview conducted on 31 December 2015 via email. Thanks to Brad for his time and openness.