Interview Thread #1- Pete Muller

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Mike Clark

New member
I believe I can be a curious and observant person. I notice certain individuals on this forum seem to have an immense knowledge of karting. This thread is a place to delve into these individuals stories via an interview format. Hopefully it will document their experiences as well as serve to share some of the knowledge they have amassed over the years. Thanks to Mr. Bob Evans for providing this forum and carving out a niche for the interview thread.
My first choice for this interview thread is someone I observed here. I noticed that in his responses, besides having a good manner, he also had a way of framing good answers within a context that prevented misinterpretation. I thought wow!; here is a nice, knowledgeable guy with good communication skills and knowledge to share in an orderly fashion. Sounds like the perfect guy to pit next to, converse with between heats and hopefully he is running in a different class than you . . .

This is an interview of Mr. Pete Muller.

Mr. Pete,
I guess we should start at the beginning. How, when & where did you get into karting? What does your karting biography look like? What is your involvement now? I gather you were mainly into sprint karting on pavement.
 
Mike,

Please -- just Pete is fine. The "Mr." is completely unnecessary!

I'll get two minor things out of the way: I'm 60 years old, and live in central California (don't hold it against me guys!).


The way I got into karting was a bit back-handed. I had started working in my dad's machine shop when I was about 12 or so, but after getting out of high school, I also worked at a motorcycle shop assembling new crated motorcycles. (I was motorcycle racing flat track at the time). There was another mechanic that worked at the shop who was a bit older, and he would tell stories about his go-kart racing in the late 60's. It sounded like a lot of fun, so I found a kart shop close by (Meyer's Speed Shop in Bellflower, CA) and went and checked out karts. I wasn't that far from Azusa Raceway either (which I believe was the first "dedicated" paved sprint track for karting in the U.S.). I went up and watched a race and was immediately hooked. This was late 1974.

My first kart was a Bug Stinger sidewinder with a Mac 91. I ran some races, but then I happened to see a brand new road-race kart (what we called an enduro kart back then) sitting at Meyer's Speed Shop. Now I was *really* hooked! I had to do that! I picked up a used Lancer enduro kart, and started running Reed Light and Reed Heavy (McCulloch engine) at every race I could make in California. By late 1977, I had moved to "Open" class, and to me, this was nirvana. Along the way, I built multiple enduro chassis and scratch-built some water-cooled open engines. I also designed and built exhaust pipes, carbs, clutches, etc. Anything I thought I could make better, lighter or different... I tried it.

As far as "biography' as a racer, I'd say most of my racing was enduro/road racing from 1975-1985. I still had a sprint kart (direct drive) that I played with and tested engines on into the mid-90's.

Back in 1977 or 1978, I also started building kart engines for customers. I was still working as a machinist for my dad's business, but started my own business on the side which quickly became my profession. Over many years, my "focus" slowly evolved into less engine building, and more machine work for other engine builders. By the mid-90's, I was building very few complete engines, but had over 100 kart shops and engine builders all over the country as customers for machine work (a few overseas as well). I would blueprint lower ends, rebuild cranks, size and straighten con-rods, do failure analysis on parts... pretty much anything. Many of the top engine builders in the country were sending me work. That line of work evolved and narrowed even more, until 95% of my work was blueprinting lower ends (specifically sleeving and line-boring cases). This was all 2-cycle engines.

Around 2004 or so, I could see that karting was changing -- there was a strong move toward "spec" engines, and in general, more and more classes were not allowing significant machine work on engine parts. I had a well-equipped shop, so started taking in more non-karting work and branching into other fields. By 2009-2010, I also started volunteering/mentoring in the Engineering Dept at a technical university. In 2012, I submitted a resume to Apple Inc., and was interviewed and subsequently hired to set up, staff and manage a development facility. I closed up my shop (kept a good portion of my equipment though), and worked for Apple for about 3 1/2 years (until I couldn't tolerate the bureaucracy any more, haha!).

Now I am semi-retired (and busier than ever). I have a fairly nice machine shop in my garage, and I occasionally accept interesting jobs, but mostly just make things for myself.


As a side note, I should give credit where due for a good portion of my background: my parents were European and immigrated to the U.S. in the early 50's. My dad worked for a company in Switzerland that built gear grinding equipment. From way before I can remember, I had a fascination with anything mechanical or technical... and my parents promoted that. By 8 or 9 years old, my dad would often take me along to his work on Saturdays (he was the chief of technology for a huge aerospace company), where I was exposed to the most high-tech manufacturing that existed then (mid-60's). This company was making everything from the fuel pumps for the Saturn V rocket, to huge drive gears for Navy ships, and all the way down to parts so small you had to look at them under a microscope. Along the way, my dad would always explain everything and answer every question. That extensive technical background starting at such a young age (especially in understand very precision machining) was a big influence on my life.
 

Mike Clark

New member
Pete,
Sounds like a nice place to live. I am of the sprint kart on pavement ilk so that is what we are talking about.

The pics I see from 74-76 seem like the karts were halfway between where they started and where they are now in terms of appearance. I can see both the legacy of the origins and the current look starting to show. The same for the drivers safety gear. You can see open helmets with visor, goggles and balaclava or a bubble face shield all the way up to a full face helmet in one pic.

I looked into karting in the 90's. Short story is it didn't happen and when karting ended up finding again me I noticed some big changes. Sealed engine were a big one and all the shifter classes going away was another. Enduro karts were one thing that interested me at first, but not any longer.

You ended up in the business end of pretty early on in your karting days. Besides your dad (who sounds awesome) did you have other mentors? Was your focus more on engines when racing? I am more of the chassis and driver is what matters type, even though I know it all matters. Do you find the skills needed to succeed in karting have changed over time? Money seem to be more an issue, but some of that can be self imposed. The one thing that seems to still plague karting is class stability. I never saw it in other forms of racing or competition as bad as it is in karting. I think it was worse when I first looked into karting than now. Ironically, 6 months in we took a nice hit when our class got axed. Sour grapes on that deal still. Incidentally I see it in cars looking back, but I could see it in karting right away looking forward in the 90's. It was one of the big factors keeping me out of karting then.
 
Regarding other mentors: not really until I was probably 18 or so. I was generally pretty much of a loner when I was young, so I spent a lot of my time either in front of a machine making something, at a drafting table designing something, or in the library digging through engineering books (no internet back then, so had to learn the hard way!). Of course once I got seriously into karting, there were many, many smart people in the sport and just keeping your eyes open and seeing what other people were doing was a constant education! The 70's was the era of John Hartman, Bob Burris, Gil Horstman, Doug Milliken, Steve O'Hara, Doug Henline, and many others. The sport was full of extremely talented engineers and racers, so there were many people to learn from even if they didn't tell you anything! haha!

When I was racing, my focus was always on the entire package -- no one thing took precedence. I built a number of enduro chassis, and put the same attention to detail into those that I applied to engine building. Same for the driving, testing, and prep work. I always felt there was potentially time to be gained in every little thing.

My opinion is that in current racing (say top-level SKUSA), I wouldn't necessarily say that the skills required to win have changed, however the way a race weekend has to be approached is definitely different. There is not nearly as much track time available on a race weekend (compared to the "old days"), so being able to utilize data and experience collected in previous testing and races becomes important. I would also say that being able to "read the track" has become very high on the list of importance... probably highest in dirt, and then followed closely by a large race weekend on a sprint track where lots of rubber is going down and slight temperature changes can really swing how the track "acts".

While I've driven most anything on pavement, I have to say I miss the days of harder tires and no bodywork. Karts were much lighter and simpler, and the harder tires not only lasted longer and were MUCH cheaper, but I feel the racing was better because lower corner speeds created more opportunity for passing. If you look at a modern F1 car, we can see the results of technology taken to the extreme: they have incredible downforce, sticky tires, and corner at 5+ Gs in high speed corners. There is NO passing -- it's simply not possible. The braking zones are insanely short, and most corners are near flat-out. So nowadays in F1, we have races that are won in Qualifying and on pit strategy. In my opinion, sprint karts have gone partway there -- very sticky tires means the karts have gotten much wider (simply can't fit as many karts into the same width space), and corner speeds are quite high so many corners are now flat out that you had to brake for 15 years ago.

Times change, and we all have to change with them, however I wonder if where karting has gone is really "desirable" for most people. Yes... we now go around a track in 45 seconds that used to take 50 seconds 10 or 15 years ago, but the cost to do so has gone up by a HUGE amount. I love technology, so I can't deny that I like all the latest engines, chassis and other equipment, however I'm not sure it's the best thing for the sport as a whole.

Sorry to get off track there a bit... fire away with more questions Mike.
 

Bob Evans

Grumpy Old Admin
Staff member
Mike seems to have gone missing in action, haven't heard from him in a while.
So I guess I'll go ahead and make this available to everyone.

Even though the thread is closed, if some of you have more questions for Pete, you could PM him. Even though this thread is closed for posting, Pete has the ability to add to it.

I would like to personally extend my thanks to Pete for including 4 Cycle in his links section back in 1996 on THE Karting Web Site. I honestly believe that's what gave my site it's start.

Bob Evans
 
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