Local engine builder was always willing to help
By NICHOLAS DETTMANN
When he started in racing, Tommy Moore struggled to find the right engine builder.
An engine builder that would give him the best parts his tight budget would allow and not just give him the parts based on what he had in his billfold.
In his third attempt, Moore latched onto Bruce Mueller.
“He’s just honest,” Moore recalled. “If you needed something repaired, he would tell you straight out if you should patch it or get a whole new thing.”
That wasn’t the case with other engine builders Moore tried.
“He wasn’t there to take your dollar,” said Moore, a dirt Grand National division racer at Beaver Dam. “He was there to give you advice.”
The same went for Roger Lee.
Living in the Milwaukee area, finding a good engine builder was getting tougher.
“I wish I would’ve had Bruce 20 years ago,” Lee said.
“He could make a lot of horse power without a lot of money,” he said.
Lee, a dirt Grand National racer at Beaver Dam, has never blown a Mueller engine in 10-plus years after having one season where he blew a new motor five races in a row.
Racing was everything for Mueller. He would do anything to make sure the sport lived on. His number one priority was to make sure the drivers could get to the race track.
“It wasn’t about money for him,” Moore said.
The short-track racing community received a shock when Mueller suddenly passed away May 10 while at home. He was 67.
For West Bend asphalt Late Model driver Mark “Kurly” Kissinger, it was a shock.
“It was a shock,” Kissinger said, adding he spoke with Mueller just the day before as they were working on a motor for a car Kissinger wanted to race a street car in road races.
Kissinger said he got a text message from close friend and fellow Late Model driver Dennis Prunty at about 7:30 a.m. the morning of Mueller’s passing to tell him the horrible news.
“You never expect it,” he said. “Especially after just talking to him the day before.”
Quickly, the honoring of the man who has been arguably the most influential person in area short-track racing – dirt and asphalt – began.
That evening at Beaver Dam Raceway, Moore carried a black flag during the national anthem’s ceremonial lap.
“To have the honor to carry the flag for him was pretty cool,” Moore said.
Mueller ran B&B Racing Engines for more than 40 years. He was the most respected and, most importantly, trusted engine builder in short-track racing.
“Somebody is always winning with a B&B engine,” Kissinger said.
Reliability was what drivers admired most with Mueller’s engines.
“When you’re paying the amount of money we’re paying for these motors, you want to know that it’s going to be reliable and the power is going to be there,” Kissinger said. “It takes so much money to get going and when the sponsors aren’t there, it’s nice to know that if you don’t have the full amount of money, he’ll work with you because he loved racing and wanted to keep the sport alive.”
Mueller did whatever it took.
One example of his unmatchable generosity is with Menomonee Falls Super Late Model asphalt driver Dave McCardle.
Four years ago, McCardle, who competes at Slinger Superspeedway, was mad at Mueller for an undisclosed reason. McCardle and Mueller parted ways.
In 2009, with B&B under the hood of McCardle’s then-Limited Late Model at Slinger, McCardle finished second in the division’s point standings, with two feature victories.
From 2010-13, McCardle won just two features.
At the trunk of the 2012 season, McCardle wanted to move up to the Super Late Model division. He realized the error of his ways with Mueller and sought out the trusted engine builder for a hand, advice.
At the time, McCardle wasn’t sure if he wanted to get back with Mueller. He just needed some wisdom, and he knew Mueller would be honest, despite the rocky separation.
“I called up Bruce about one of the engines (a competitor company was) selling,” McCardle said.
Mueller gave McCardle an engine worth an estimated $20,000 at no upfront charge.
“He said ‘Just come and get it and run it. Then make a decision after that,’“ McCardle said. “He just gave me a $20,000-plus motor to just try it.
“That’s the kind of guy Bruce was.”
He was that way for everybody, doing whatever it took to preserve short-track racing. Kissinger said one couldn’t be impressed with someone who had that kind of generosity in a sport and during a time where every cent counted. Nobody could afford to just give stuff away, expensive stuff for that matter. Mueller was in the same position.
He loved racing. He wanted drivers on the track.
“I would not be racing what I am without him,” McCardle said. “There’s a bunch of guys that are like that.”
Mueller wasn’t just a genius with race engines.
“He helped set the rules in the major divisions,” McCardle said. “He looked to keep the playing field level. He really wanted to keep it level. Bruce had a big impact at how rules were set.
“He’s a huge loss.”
Mueller always told drivers to take whatever they needed with whatever they had in the wallet. We can settle the rest later.
“Not many people are like that anymore,” Kissinger said.
“It didn’t matter who you were,” McCardle said. “He always gave people really good stuff. He just worked really hard for you, no matter how much money you bring to the table.”
Mueller’s generosity cost him from time to time as there were drivers who took advantage of him. However, that didn’t mean he’d turn his back on the next person that walked through the door of his shop or called him on the telephone, even if that person just burned him.
“Bruce had no problem helping out other people,” McCardle said.
The biggest thing moving forward in the wake of Mueller’s passing is what’s next.
“I don’t know where I’ll go now,” Lee said, adding Mueller’s head engine builder told the gathering at the funeral every attempt will be made to keep Mueller’s legacy and parts going at full speed.
“He was always very good to me,” Lee said. “He’s going to be missed by a lot of people.”
(This article first appeared in the June 2014 issue of Full Throttle Magazine.)