Tyler Alexander, one of the key figures in the history of McLaren, has died at the age of 75. Tyler was one of the good guys. He did not suffer fools (at all), but if you won his respect he was a fine and loyal friend.
Tyler was an unusual F1 figure. He grew up in Hingham, Massachusetts, a small town on the waterfront, to the south of Boston. Initially he studied aerospace engineering at the Wentworth Institute of Technology, but used welding and machining skills to help out in the world of SCCA 500cc racing, working with the likes of Roger Penske and others. This led to a job with Texan oil millionaire John Mecom’s sportscar team and he soon got to know other ambitious youngsters, notably Philadelphia lawyer Teddy Mayer, who was running the Rev-Em Racing team in Formula Junior for his brother Timmy Mayer and Peter Revson, a college friend from Cornell.
In 1963 the Mayer brothers and Revson went to Europe to take part in Formula Junior races and they took Alexander with them. He would then join forces with Bruce McLaren, operating out of a miserable shed with Mayer, Wally Wilmott and Alexander put together the Oldsmobile-powered, Zerex-based sport car in just a couple of weeks. It was sent back to the States and beat Jim Hall’s Chaparral in the first event. Back in England the McLaren team began building the M1A, the first McLaren racing car. Tyler and Bruce became very close in the years that followed, with Tyler both as a close confidant and as an engineering sounding board. Alexander was impressed by McLaren.
“I remember thinking this guy seemed to know a lot about motor racing, and perhaps I’d better tag along to find out more about it myself,” he said. “I wasn’t wrong…”
It was the start of a relationship that would see him move from mechanic to chief mechanic, then chief engineer and ultimately to become a director of the company.
At the start Tyler was a jack of all trades: he directed the mechanics; he machined spare parts; he arranged accommodation; he paid for last-minute airline tickets; he scrounged favours from a growing list of friends and colleagues. He pushed and pulled McLaren’s racecars around the world, and, once at the track, made sure they were better engineered and organised than any other team in the pitlane. As McLaren grew his role increased. He developed McLaren’s CanAm effort to a level of domination never witnessed before or since in world motorsport. Initially involved in F1, Alexander became increasingly part of the McLaren empire in the United States, overseeing the McLaren empire from its base in Livonia, Michigan. McLaren’s early success came in CanAm racing where the company won five successive titles (1967-71) and a record 43 victories for McLaren, Denny Hulme and Revson.
When McLaren was killed testing an M8D CanAm car at Goodwood in 1970, Alexander played a key role with Mayer, Denny Hulme and Dan Gurney in keeping the team together.
As the CanAm scene faded, McLaren turned its attention in the US to Indycar racing, with drivers such as Johnny Rutherford and Tom Sneva winning two Indy 500s in 1974 and 1976 and one USAC title.
In 1979 Alexander was called back to Europe by Mayer to help make the McLaren F1 team more competitive and worked as engineering director. In September 1980 Team McLaren merged with Ron Dennis’s Project 4, at the instigation of their shared sponsor Marlboro. Alexander had a small shareholding in the new McLaren International, but at the end of 1982 he sold this to Dennis and departed the company. He and Mayer formed a British-based Indycar team called Mayer Motor Racing for which Alexander ran the technical operations. The team came close to winning the 1984 Indycar title at the team’s first attempt with driver Tom Sneva. Mayer Motor Racing disappeared soon afterwards when Mayer and Alexander became the team principals in what was to become Carl Haas’s Beatrice F1 team. Alexander was team manager of the operation but when Beatrice unexpectedly pulled out the team was forced to fold.
Alexander went on to run the BMW IMSA sportscar team before being hired by Ron Dennis of McLaren as Special Project Manager. He embarked on a number of key technical and organisational assignments, working in Europe, Japan and the United States to bolster the team’s dominance. He soon gained the trust and respect of engineers and drivers alike, including great champions like Ayrton Senna, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton.
“Tyler was one of the first pillars of our company – working hard alongside Bruce from the very earliest days – and Bruce couldn’t have asked for a sturdier pair of shoulders upon which to help build the team’s reputation,” said Ron Dennis. “Quite simply, Tyler lived and breathed McLaren – and, following his retirement in late 2008, during which season he attended every Grand Prix and played an important part in securing the team’s and Lewis Hamilton’s world championship success, he remained a much loved and greatly valued chum to many of us, regularly visiting our Woking factory to catch up with pals old and new. Tyler’s was a friendship that you could really rely upon; he was a man who would never let you down.
“In fact, Tyler was one of the finest of the old school: hardy, humble and wise, leaving a reputation and a legacy that will remain indelible in the history of international motorsport.”
Dennis’s comments are mirrored by those of Sir Jackie Stewart.
“Tyler has served as an ideal ambassador to represent the community of motorsport,” he said. “In all of his dealings, he was soft-spoken but firm in his commitments, socially capable in every respect. He dressed well, behaved well, spoke well and engineered well. There’s much to be learned from Tyler’s life and example.”
In addition to his many other talents, Tyler was a great photographer, snapping pictures throughout the history of the team, which were published in his book of photography, McLaren From The Inside. This was followed this year by his memoirs Tyler Alexander: A Life and Times with McLaren.
My thoughts go to my colleague in the F1 media for many years, Jane Nottage, Tyler’s loving companion in recent years.