1972 All American Racers Indy Eagle #7228
1972 All-American Racers Eagle #7228 was originally purchased in September 1973 by Mike Slater's Commander Racing Team after driver Lloyd Ruby wrecked the team's primary Eagle, #7224, at the September 2nd Cal 500 after a right front Firestone tire burst coming out of turn four, flattening the side of #7224.
Sponsored by Commander Motor Homes and meticulous prepared by Mike Devin, #7228 would be raced by Ruby throughout the remainder of 1973 season, taking home four top-ten finishes in the five races it ran at the tail end of the season.
For 1974, Eagle #7228 was the workhorse for the rebadged 'Unlimited Racing' squad, though it wasn't meant to be. After finishing a strong fifth in the Ontario 500 on March 10th, the #9 car, which was now running without Commander Motor Home support, finished 9th at the Phoenix 150 the week after, and later failed to finish the attrition-filled Trentonian 200 on April 7. Despite not finishing, Ruby was classified 8th in the 19-car field- only four cars were running at the end of the event.
Gearing up for Indianapolis, the team took delivery of an all new 1974 All American Racers Eagle, #7411. With Ruby's strong runs to start the '74 campaign, the new chassis looked like the last ingredient needed to finally bring the hard luck king the victory he rightly deserved at Indianapolis.
However, on Friday, May 10th at 5:43 p.m. local time, a mere 17 minutes before practice was to end, Ruby was out perfecting his new ride when he lost control in turn 2, spinning and hitting the wall, damaging the new Eagle. Crew Chief Mike Devin would have some work to do to ready the team's backup car, #7228, for qualifying the next day.
As 3:34 p.m. came around, Ruby- the favorite son of Wichita Falls, Texas took the #9 Unlimited Racing Eagle/Offy out for a qualifying attempt, the 11th car to do so. Four clean laps later #7228 was driven to a 181.699 mph qualifying average. Before his crash the day earlier, he had topped out at 182.630 mph aboard #7411- though he had practiced as high as 188.481 on May 9th with the newer machine. Regardless, it put the #9 machine firmly in the show in 18th position.
As raceday dawned on May 26th, a revised Indianapolis Motor Speedway, renewed with safety features in the wake of the 1973 tragedies, looked to showcase the best USAC Indycar racing had to offer. And offer it did- Team McLaren's Johnny Rutherford, AJ Foyt in his own creation and All American Racers' Bobby Unser had fine battle going until Foyt dropped out with an oil line issue on lap 148.
All the while, a certain brown, white and orange machine, piloted by a man in an open-faced helmet, was edging his way through the field. With 20 laps to go, the #9 was running third behind Rutherford.
Yet, sometimes when you pull all the punches to get the result you need, something gets used up. In the case of the #9 car, its fuel reserves were at the brink, and the team had used its allotment back in the pits. At the 187 lap mark, a mere 32 miles from the finish, Ruby stepped out of his machine. The fuel had been exhausted. Despite the premature end to the day, #7228 was classified in 9th position, earning a $22,396 for the team.
As the car had the year prior under the watchful eye of Chief Mechanic Mike Devin, the car had another fine run of races in 1974: a 9th at the Rex Mays at Milwaukee, 6th at the Pocono 500 and 7th at the Bettenhausen 200 at Milwaukee, proved a fine streak of top-tens in the summer heat. However, at the July 21 Michigan 200, the #28 blew an Offenhauser motor in practice, sidelining the team from the event. Two months later, Ruby qualified 9th for the September 15 Michigan 250, only to have a break a connecting rod on lap 20. Michigan would be Ruby's final appearance aboard #7228.
However, Ruby did have a one-off appearance with the car in another sanctioned race two weeks earlier, the September 1 California Grand Prix Formula 5000 event, held at Ontario Motor Speedway's infield road course that included part of the oval circuit. For 1974 and 1975, USAC and SCCA allowed cars from each other's series to take part in certain events.
Fourty-four cars were entered for the California Grand Prix, with two crossover USAC entries. Ruby was listed as running the #19 Unlimited/Firestone Racing entry, while Billy Scott raced Webster Racing's 1972 Eagle #7202. Ruby qualified 20th of the 44 present, and finished 13th in his heat race, two laps adrift from F5000 great Brian Redman.
For the 34 lap event, Ruby made his way slowly up the order before a mechanical gremlin sidelined his Offenhauser-powered machine, relegating him to 17th in the final results.
For 1975, both Eagle #7228 and the repaired Eagle #7224 tub were sold to shipping magnate Tassi Vatis. Eagle #7228 made the 1975 Indianapolis 500 as the #93 Ayr-Way WNAP ride for Johnny Parsons Jr. and later made the 1976 and 1977 event with Steve Krisiloff driving as the #92 entry.
The 1978 season saw a dramatic design change for both chassis, as crew chief Bill Finley narrowed both chassis in an attempt to make the cars more streamlined. What was reduced in surface area was lost in handling, as Billy Vukovich failed to make the event as the #93 McCord Auto Supply entry. Al Loquasto and Spike Gehlhausen managed some decent showings with the renumbered #92 machine later in the year.
Both cars were sold to John Mahler's Intercomp team for 1979, and #7228 was in the starting field at Indy only to be bumped out. Luckily, Mahler managed to get the spare car, #7224, in the field.
As a new decade began, #7228 was already ancient in racing terms, and was reduced to a rental racer for 1980. Juan Carlos Bolanos drove the car at Mexico City where the Offy broke early and Chip Mead managed to start 37th at Ontario Motor Speedway's final IndyCar event, only to retire during the first round of pitstops after a refueling fire.
Frank Weiss and Mahler attempted to get #7228 up to speed at the 1981 Indy 500, but it was a hopeless endeavor.
The car was sold yet again for 1982 to Rick DeLorto, who fitted the car with a stock-block Chevy motor. DeLorto failed to make the field at Elkhart Lake, Milwaukee and Michigan, and the car was sold again into the amateur ranks.
In 2005, the remains of #7228 were purchased by John Mueller of Fresno, California. John and his dedicated crew took to the task of restoring the car back to its original 1972 Eagle form, and much of what is seen today is due to their painstaking efforts.
While still in the final stages of restoration, the car is shown in the colors it ran late in 1973 when it was raced by the late-great Lloyd Ruby, a man whom many call the greatest driver never to win at Indianapolis.