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July 17: Racing legend John Cooper was born on this date in 1923

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July 17: Racing legend John Cooper was born on this date in 1923

Ask most Americans who John Cooper was and you'll likely get a blank stare or maybe a reference to someone they know who owns a Mini. Which is a shame, since Cooper and his father essentially set the template of modern open-wheel racing with their Cooper racing team, winning Formula 1 world championships in 1959 and 1960 with British drivers like Stirling Moss and Jack Brabham. Cooper wasn't the first race-car builder to put the engine behind the driver, but his innovations and engineering skill made it clear that rear-engined cars were the way of the future. It was only after selling the F1 team that Cooper turned to building rally-tuned versions of the diminutive Mini — where his name rests today. Here's Brabham's son David taking the same 1959 Cooper Climax T51 that his father drove to victory around Sebring: