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December 11: John Wyer, the man who made Gulf colors a racing legend, was born on this date in 1909

December 11, 2013
Porsche 917 racing
Porsche 917 racing

They called him "Death Ray." That should tell you what kind of boss John Wyer was — but whatever his management style, the man with the slick hair parted with a bullet knew how to race. Wyer, born on this date in 1903, oversaw Aston Martin's only LeMans win in 1959 before joining Ford's first LeMans efforts with the GT40s in 1963. Wyle's GT40 MK1s didn't win due to reliability problems, but Wyle kept tinkering even after Ford won LeMans, then pulled out of racing.

In 1967, Wyle brought forth a heavily modified GT40 called the Mirage, and with it, a new sponsorship from Gulf Oil, a Pennsylvania company which had just bought a smaller firm that featured a powder blue and orange color scheme. Wyle convinced Gulf to sponsor the cars, but Gulf picked the colors that became famous on tracks around the world. While the Mirages had some success, Wyle would take over Porsche's factory racing two years later with a car Porsche engineers had slaved over for years — the 917, perhaps the most fearful machines to ever take a track. It was Wyle who solved the cars' extreme handling problems that gave the team world championships in 1970 and 1971 — although the 917 would only win LeMans in the Steve McQueen movie. Gulf Oil marked the 1970 season with the film below, a little-known gem that demonstrates the intensity that Wyle brought to every race: