Words: Peter Hill
When Peter rang Dave McMillan to talk to him about Mark ‘Jandals’ Sheehan – the subject of the next in his series profiling some of New Zealand’s top race mechanics/engineers from the ’60s and ’70s – his first comment was: “I reckon he should be knighted, ‘Sir Jandals.’” Although, as his nickname suggests, if he was offered a knighthood then getting him to dress for the ceremony might prove to be a problem.
Jandals served his apprenticeship at Northern Autos in Auckland, working on Triumphs and Studebakers and “that sort of rubbish”. His first taste of motorsport came through helping Brian Pellow working on the Mini he raced. A single-seater soon followed when the Pellow brothers acquired Tim Bailey’s Brabham BT6, a car powered by a pushrod Fiat engine: “It was the fastest pushrod but no match for the twin-cams.” However, a twin-cam motor came up for sale and Jandals was soon working on it and the Brabham chassis, learning on the job.
On the occasions he’d visited Christchurch, Jandals always thought it would be a good place to live, so he moved there at the end of 1969 when he had completed his apprenticeship. There he worked for Murray Baker running Formula Fords for a few drivers. Murray’s brother, Graham, had been racing a Formula B in North America. When he returned to Christchurch, he purchased a Formula Ford that Jandals would work on.
The early seventies was also the time when big-banger saloons were added to Jandals’ experience, working for Leo Leonard on both the E38 then E49 Charger. Allan Moffat was none too happy when his Falcon GT-HO got blown away at Wigram by the Chargers of Leonard and Rutherford, and Leo still holds Jandals in high regard.
“He was a loyal and dedicated enthusiast. When we were underfunded and trying to race a car, he was the right person to have around – not demanding and a great all-rounder. Just before a race Jandals was always last to leave the grid. He’d be busy spraying Track-Bite in front of the rear tyres. It was one of his initiatives. I don’t know if it did any good, although we did always seem to get away pretty well.”
Jandals also worked on the PDL Mustang for a while and after rebuilding its engine, he was delighted to witness Graham Baker at Baypark winning all three races in the Mustang, beating Moffat.
It was a miracle the Mustang was racing at one meeting; the day before, Jandals had finished rebuilding the engine and had put it in the back of a Vanguard van. On the way to the track the doors of the van flew open and the engine fell out onto the road. Jandals claims that the engine passed them as it rolled along the tarmac, shedding components as it went by. They worked all night to rebuild the engine and managed to have the Mustang racing the next day.
A job offer from Neville Crichton lured Jandals back to Auckland. Crichton believes their association came about through Rod Coppins.
“Mark worked for me on and off on different projects. I think he originally came through Rod Coppins. Rod was racing that E49 Charger. Rod worked for me in those days at Monaco Motors. Rod brought Mark along and we went on from there, and when I started racing the 350 Monaro, Mark worked for me full-time on that project.
“Mark was a very good mechanic, very reliable, a good all-rounder and he had a lot of knowledge. He would work 24 hours a day to get a project finished. You just had to keep an eye on him to make sure everything complied [with the rules]. He did several B&H cars for me for a period as well. The first Wellington street race I did in the BMW, he worked on that. I hired Ray Stone to run the team and Mark worked for him on the BMW. Ray and Mark weren’t a good match. Stone was immaculate and everything was perfect whereas Jandals was more ‘she’ll be right’, but he still got the job done.”
The Crichtons sometimes found Jandals’ dress sense a challenge.
“My wife at that time tried to tidy him up. At one stage we had to go to a function that required a suit. She went out and bought him a suit and he turned up to the function with his suit on – but still wearing his jandals!”
Jandals was chief mechanic for Coppins and Jim Richards when they won the 1973 B&H 500. His work with Coppins took him to Australia when Rod’s Pontiac Firebird had to leave New Zealand as it had been imported on a carnet. Coppins raced the car in Australia until he received a call from Eric Mallard from the Motorsport Association of New Zealand (MANZ), suggesting it might be a good idea to sell the car, as New Zealand was changing its saloon car categories and there would no longer be a suitable category for the Firebird. This indirectly led to Jandals being at Bathurst in 1974 with Murray McLaren and the Coppins/Richards L34 Torana. This having come about after Coppins had sold the Firebird and cancelled the BMW he had ordered to race in New Zealand, not knowing what he would race.
“We were sat around having morning tea when Graham Sellars asked Rod what he was going to race,” recalled Jandals. “Rod said that he didn’t know. Anyway, the day before when I was at Calder Raceway, I had seen one of the new Torana V8s going around and it was a pretty neat-looking car. So I said, ‘Why don’t you buy one of these new Toranas and race it at Bathurst?’ He said, ‘Yeah, we could do that.’ So Sellars gets on the phone and rings General Motors. They said, ‘No, you don’t want one of those you want one of these.’ They were referring to the L34s; they were building a limited run of 250 to qualify for Bathurst. So we ordered one of them and I stayed over for March and April and made some money for him to help pay for it. Then I pulled the whole thing to pieces and started again.”
His efforts were rewarded with third overall in the big race, much to the surprise of the Australians who had been somewhat dismissive when the team turned up. Sadly, their 1975 Bathurst wasn’t as successful when the car retired with a broken gearbox.
Jim Richards still remembers the 1974 effort well.
“In ’74 Rod [Coppins] paid to fly Jandals over to Australia to prepare our car for Bathurst. It was a brand-new car and he had to start from scratch. He worked on the car non-stop, doing a great job almost by himself. Rod used to call Jandals ‘The Shark’. I asked him why he called him that. ‘Oh, come on, just have a look at him!’ he said.”
Towards the end of the seventies, North America beckoned and Jandals joined Murray McLaren, working for Joe Stimola and helping to run Formula Fords out of Stimola’s Long Island-based operation in New York State. One of the drivers that Jandals looked after was a young bloke called Chip Ganassi, who was racing a Royale Formula Ford.
“We were working for Joe Stimola. It was like a normal workshop but full of racing cars. I was looking after Formula Fords, Murray was looking after Atlantic cars, and Ross Stone was out the back with a couple of Can-Am cars. It was quite good.”
When it got cold in New York, towards the end of September, Coppins was on the phone asking Jandals to head back to New Zealand to work on a Golf GTi that he and Jerry Clayton had entered in the 1979 B&H 1000 long distance race. So Jandals returned to New Zealand to prepare the Golf, and they went on to win.
“I just worked flat out for one week to prepare the VW and they won the B&H, in a Golf of all things. It was the same engine as the Super Vees ran in the States.”
For the following year’s race, he built up a V8 Commodore that the same drivers used to win the race again.
Single-seaters came back into Jandals’ life in New Zealand when he worked for Dave McMillan, who was racing a Ralt RT1 with a Nissan LZ 41 engine, which he described as “quite interesting”, although it did perform reasonably well at some tracks against the BDA-powered cars. Murray McLaren badly damaged his leg while loading a racing car, so McMillan asked Jandals to return to the States to work on a Super Vee.
“Dave told me he had a job for me building a car for him – an Autoresearch Super Vee. He sent me to Don Edmunds’ shop in LA. Don asked me what I was there for and I told him I was there to put a car together for Dave. He pointed me at the sheets of aluminium and rails and said, ‘Get started.’ That was a lot of work with a few long hours in there, but I enjoyed it because you’re making something and I really enjoyed that, and I learnt about bending steel and aluminium.”
Jandals worked with McMillan through the Super Vee series before returning to New Zealand at the end of 1981 to run the ex-Geoff Lees RT4 that McMillan had bought from Macau. After the New Zealand series, the car was shipped to the States, but Jandals had flown to the USA straight after the Levin meeting as McMillan was due to test an Indy Car that his sponsor Centerline Wheels had organised.
“I hopped off the plane in LA and got on another plane to Phoenix, where we went testing. It’s the only place that there’s no snow at that time of year. We tested there in this monster of Dan Gurney’s. It wasn’t a bad car; it had started on the front row at Indy in ’81. It was a 351 small block Chev, just a big capacity small block. It was troublesome. Dave did a whole lot of laps at Phoenix, but a month later, for the first race, the guy who owned the car wanted to drive it. He crashed it both times and we ran out of parts.”
Murray McLaren joined the boys for the Atlantic season. In the last race McMillan only had to finish ahead of Norm Hunter to win the 1982 Atlantic title, which he did to the delight of his crew.
Many readers will remember the Pan Am livery on Dave McMillan’s Ralts. The deal was that he could get free flights both for himself and any of his team.
“When I had the Pan Am deal, I arranged to fly Garry [Pedersen] and Jandals over to the States,” said Dave. “Garry was checking them in when the check-in person asked, ‘Your friend, does he have long trousers and a shirt and tie?’ And he did! In his suitcase. So he changed, and they were upgraded to first class. Ever after that Jandals would dress-up when flying Pan Am. But it’s an unusual occurrence, even when there’s snow everywhere he wears shorts and jandals!
“We were racing at Trois-Rivières in Canada when I damaged a wheel on the kerbs. It was a three-piece wheel so Jandals took it apart and started beating out the dent. We didn’t have money for spares. Just then, Carroll Smith comes along [engineer and author of Prepare to Win]. He watched in horror as Jandals went to work on the wheel, shaking his head and saying ‘Oh my God, I don’t believe it.’ But it worked.”
Dave McMillan sums up Jandals’ approach: “He’s as messy as all hell, but he still knows where everything is.”
Back in the Antipodes
After enjoying a rest in 1983, the following year Jandals was sitting at home when the phone rang. It was Frank Gardner wanting him to work for him at Terrey Hills in Sydney, building Group A BMW 635s. So off he went to work for Gardner. In 1985 Jim Richards won the championship in one of the BMWs. At the end of the season, Jandals got a body shell and built it up for 1986. He was going to do the 1986 season with Gardner, but McMillan rang asking him to fly to the States to work with him for Brian Robertson, the Ralt importer. By then McMillan was running Ralt’s racing operations for Robertson. After Long Beach, where Steve Bren won in their car, they took the two RT5 Super Vees from LA and set up at Elkhart Lake in Wisconsin. Despite Steve Bren winning twice, and he and his brother Cary taking numerous podium places, Ralt’s dominance came to an end with Didier Theys’ new Martini MK50 taking the 1986 championship.
Jandals didn’t get time to put his feet up back in New Zealand as John Goss rang asking him to put a Jaguar together for Bathurst.
“That was a bit of a bad move. I went to Aussie and found the car was still biffed from ’84 when it got rear-ended. I sent all the stuff away and ordered stuff from Walkinshaw. I asked Goss if the battery should be changed but he said, ‘No, just charge it up.’ The battery died early in the race. Bobby Muir was driving and he walked all the way down the hill, got a new battery and walked all the way back again. We finished, but well down.”
Back in New Zealand, Crichton got Jandals to prepare a Mustang for him and Dick Johnson to race, which started an association with Johnson that saw him working on his Ford Sierras through 1987. To his surprise, Jandals became the engine man for Johnson. The team scored one win in Adelaide but finished sixth in the series after three DNFs and the dominance of Jim Richards’ BMW M3.
Then it was back to New Zealand for the last two races of the New Zealand Touring Car Championship with a Sierra that had been shipped from Europe. Crichton and Steve Soper shared the driving on the Wellington street circuit. Soper hit the wall in the race and damaged the front suspension. This same combination finished sixth in the 500km race at Pukekohe.
Neville Crichton is now an extremely successful Sydney-based businessman who makes the Australian Rich List, and yet Jandals still has a signed blank cheque that Crichton gave him decades ago to cover some expenses. He never filled it in and banked it.
For a complete change of scenery, the following year Jandals also crewed for Gary Croft’s Volvo 240 Turbo entry with Swedish driver Per-Gunnar ‘Peggen’ Andersson.
For the next couple of years Jandals stayed home working with Garry Pedersen as Pedersen Sheehan Racing, with a number of drivers, including Mark Pedersen in an early van Diemen Formula Ford that he got from McMillan in the USA. In 1989 Pedersen went well in a Swift DB1 until he got turned upside down at Manfeild.
New Zealand changed to running treaded tyres on Formula Fords so the pair flew to Bathurst and bought Mark Larkham’s 1989 van Diemen, which suited the Dunlop tyres. They suited Pedersen as well, as he came second in the 1989 championship.
There was to be one more stint in America for Jandals. In 1996 he rejoined Dave McMillan running the Ralt team for Brian Robertson for the last season of Formula Atlantic.
Jandals’ other achievements and successes are almost endless and include running Garry Croft to win the Formula Ford 1991/1992 championship; an NZIGP win with Simon Gamble; building NZV8s to win three championships; building Tranzam Lites cars to win a championship; and his MotorSport NZ Distinguished Service Award.
In more recent times, Jandals has worked with current TRS champion Matthew Payne. His day-to-day business is working on automatic gearboxes in the workshop at Hampton Downs that he shares with Garry Pedersen. Of course, he can’t help himself, if someone turns up needing a part to be made or machined he invariably helps out. One small diversion from gearboxes was time spent helping Garry restore the ex-Alan Rollinson McRae GM1 F5000. He has been an Auckland Car Club executive committee member and scrutineer for three decades; a New Zealand Rally scrutineer; and is involved in technical matters for MotorSport New Zealand.
Jandals is held in high regard in motorsport across North America, Australia and in New Zealand. There will be many people who don’t know what his real name is, but everyone knows who Jandals is.
His story is best ended with a couple of good quotes:
“We can tell you a lot of stories about Jandals, but this is not that sort of magazine.” (Denise, Dave McMillan’s ex-wife.)
“I put credit for my racing success down to Jandals, Murray McLaren and Garry Pedersen.” (Dave McMillan.)