Bob Tullius, Sports Cars, Class of 2018
Bob Tullius will tell you he's had a racer's mindset since leaving his mother's womb, but the hook was set during his preteen years when his father snuck him into Caledonia Speedway, near the family home in Rochester, New York.
After Air Force duty he raced motorcycles before taking his wife's Triumph TR3 to driving school. Shortly thereafter he stood in the New York office of Mike Cook, Triumph's American PR chief, talking his way into a new TR4. Tullius drove it to the SCCA's 1962 E Production national championship and was rewarded with another TR4. Consecutive D Production championships followed in '63 and '64.
Tullius made competing his profession, establishing Group 44 Inc. based on his racing number. The initial core were Tullius, Dick Gilmartin, who helped land Quaker State sponsorship, and young mechanic Brian Fuerstenau. Tullius' next hire was longtime crew chief Lawton "Lanky" Foushee. With British Leyland and Quaker State behind them, Group 44 Inc. pioneered modern factory support and commercial sponsorship. Everywhere the white-and-green machines appeared they were immaculately prepared, because Tullius knew after competitiveness, presentation was everything.
After fielding a string of winning Triumphs and MGBs, Group 44 Inc. switched to Jaguars for 1975, closing the deal with Michael H. Dale, now the retired President of Jaguar USA, but then in charge of marketing. Tullius made good by winning the B Production national championship with an XKE V12, "surprising all the Corvettes," he says.
That success led to a Trans-Am version of Jaguar's new XJS model. In 1977 Bob's XJS won five of 11 Trans-Ams to capture the Category 1 title, and repeated in 1978, winning seven consecutive races to secure the driver's crown and Jaguar's first-ever manufacturer's championship. Moving to IMSA in 1979, Tullius scored GTO class wins in his TR8, including the 1980 Sebring 12 Hours.
Dale and Jaguar then asked Group 44 Inc. to take the marque into IMSA's premier Grand Touring Prototype category. This required a purpose-built car, so Tullius hired Lee Dykstra to design it and moonlighting GM designer Randy Wittine to sculpt its graceful curves. Bob himself did the graphics. The XJR-5 debuted in 1982 and won nine GTP races over five seasons, including 1985's only non-Porsche 962 win. Tullius was also instrumental in taking Jaguar back to Le Mans in '84, winning the GTP class in '85. When the Jaguar partnership ended, Group 44 Inc. hooked up with Audi to capture another Trans-Am title with Hurley Haywood in 1988.
People so associate Tullius with British cars that they sometimes overlook his drives in other makes. Tullius won the Over 2-Liter class at the first-ever Trans-Am in a Dodge Dart, ran a Javelin in the NASCAR Grand American series, the turbine-powered Howmet Turbine cars at Le Mans, a NART Ferrari 512 BB at Daytona and the legendary 1966 "Gray Ghost" Pontiac Tempest in the 1971 Trans-Am series.
After his racing days, Tullius "relaxed" by accumulating 1,600 hours in the WWll P-51-D Mustang "Donald Duck" formerly flown by Capt. Donald Emerson, a 21-year-old ace killed on Christmas Day, 1944.
"I donated it to the RAF museum in London," says Tullius, "in memory of him and all the others who died for us."
By John Zimmermann