Tyler Alexander 1940 – 2016

tyleralexander-rgTyler 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.

24 thoughts on “Tyler Alexander 1940 – 2016

  1. Very sad news. Another key McLaren man from the glory days of the 80’s; the days of excitement when the team often ruled the (F1) world.

  2. Sad news indeed; condolences to his family and friends. Another one of those understated motor racing blokes from my childhood.

  3. What sad news. Just received Tyler’s book for Christmas, and a most enjoyable read it is. I believe that Tyler had a much greater impact over a longer period than most fans realize. How many team manager’s can count multiple world Championships and multiple Indy 500 wins among their accomplishments! Remarkable. And to think, he was a good old Yank, to boot. RIP

  4. Sad news indeed – as you say, hardy, humble and wise indeed. Tyler, Dave (Ryan) and Jo (Ramirez ) all helped hold the team together with their combined experience back in 2000 era…all gone from Mclaren now

    1. As indeed did my cousin’s husband the late Eoin Young, who came across to the UK with Bruce and was a Director of McLaren for many years

  5. Sad, sad news. Mr. Alexander could certainly be called one of the most influential figures in the history of motor racing. I too read his book over the holidays. It is comprehensive and fascinating chronicle of McLaren and motor racing in the 60s, 70s and 80s. A fantastic read, which I highly encourage.

  6. A sad day for so many who felt admiration and affection for Tyler in large and equal measures. I had the pleasure of working with him at the Haas F1 and IndyCar teams before his return to McLaren. As another longtime UK-based American, I recall fondly his hilarious and increasingly emphatic comparison one evening of the relative virtues of living in the US versus the UK – Britain was an easy winner in his book…

  7. Wow, this one hits home.

    In 1966, I was spending my summer vacation at our cottage located about 20 Km from Le Circuit Mont-Tremblant, where the Canadian GP was held in ’68 and ’70.

    One morning I could hear a racing engine howling. So my cousin and I hitchhiked out to the track and, lo and behold, there was Bruce McLaren testing his stunning orange Can Am car.

    I spent the whole day watching the action from the stands just above the team. As impressive as a Can Am car was, what also caught my attention was the whole atmosphere around the team. There was Bruce and, I later found out, Tyler Alexander and a couple more mechanics, and these guys looked like they were having the time of their life, joking and laughing.

    Once the testing was over and the team was packing up, we walked back to the side of the road to hitchhike home. A few minutes later, there was Bruce and Tyler in, if I remember correctly, a convertible Ford Thunderbird with in the back the Can Am car on an open trailer!

    Bruce actually slowed down as if to pick us up, but when we started running toward their car they took off and I could hear the two of them having a good laugh.

    That day changed my life.

    RIP Mr Alexander.

  8. Sad news indeed. I got to know Tyler whilst working at Beatrice where, despite being a Director he was more likely to be found getting his hands dirty in the workshops than sitting in his office. I know – I ended up helping him clean wheels at the back of the factory more than once!

    A truly good guy, now I really must get his book.

    RIP Tyler.

  9. Hi Joe. Thank you for this wonderful tribute to Mr. Alexander.I would like to correct the history of the Xerex Special. From memory, I believe it was originally a project of Roger Penske and was a Cooper F1 car with an envelope body added. Bruce and Tyler bought it and changed the climax engine to a small block aluminum Oldsmobile unit. It kind of was the first McLaren. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    1. That is what happened. I don’t think what I wrote says it differently. I believe Tyler did work with Roger before he left the US

  10. What a fantastic obituary.

    This was a man whose name I have known most of my life, but about whom I actually knew nothing. Yet in just a few paragraphs a picture suddenly emerges of a man of great integrity who was clearly a truly founding- father of the sport we love.

    I think I need to find a copy of his book now!

  11. Forgot to mention in my comment; a terrific obituary, packed with detail…as I’ve come to expect. This will prompt me to buy the books.

  12. Can anyone say what caused his death and where was he when he died? I had read he was in failing health but no details, and assume he was in Britain since he used to stop by Woking.

    1. He died in the UK. I believe the actual cause of death was pneumonia, but he had suffered several strokes prior to that, which left him incapacitated. Whether this adds to the obituary is a matter of opinion. I don’t think it does.

      1. Cause of death is generally considered of interest, sad as it may be, I.e. David Bowie. (Spent multiple years in major news media.)

  13. Also failed to mention how complete your obit is, best one I’ve seen, other than no mention of cause of death and location. Met Tyler while I was with the PR agency handling Anheuser-Busch motorsports and was responsible for the Indycar program with McLaren and Johnny Rutherford. The season ended with a fourth place at the Ontario 500 behind a phalanx of three Penskes with ground effects. Recall Tyler or JR saying “best in class….” Budweiser declined to up the sponsorship needed to develop new cars and McLaren folded its Indycar effort. Rutherford moved on to Jim Hall’s Lotus ‘homage’ and won Indy while Tyler went back to England. Saw him again years later at the first US F1 race at Indianapolis. Harrison Ford could play Tyler in the movie.

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