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Joe and Paul Fahey installing the Gurney-Weslake engine into Paul’s Shelby Mustang (Wright Collection)

Joe Wright was one of our best race mechanics for many years. A laid-back soul, Joe worked with the brilliant Graham McRae for longer than most. “When I was with Graham it never stopped. We’d be at a restaurant and drawing things on napkins, coming out with ideas.” Sometimes it was too much, even for Joe. “Occasionally I just had to run away from it.”

Joe’s career began long before that. He started an aircraft engineering apprenticeship with Barr Brothers at Ardmore Aerodrome shortly before a major downturn in farming saw the business fold. A motor mechanic’s apprenticeship was an alternative and the course of Joe’s life was set when Ray Stone, a legend in the South Auckland motor racing scene and beyond, showed up as his night school tutor.

At Ray’s Alfriston workshop Joe was introduced to the art of modifying cylinder heads and other tuning tricks. Ray recognised his young protégé’s ability and Joe accepted Ray’s offer of a job at Performance Developments when he’d finished his apprenticeship. Bob Homewood, another talented engine tuner and mechanic, also worked there and Ray decided they couldn’t have two Bobs (as the new man’s name was actually Robert) so he re-named him Joe, much to his mum’s disgust. The name stuck.

“The era of the [Paul Fahey] Lotus Cortina was coming to an end so I had little to do with that. Max Mumby and the team were building the Anglia breadvan and I helped with that. Then I worked on the first Mustang. Ray would tell me what do and I’d sort of do it,” recalls Joe. This included Ray’s secret modification to the rear suspension.

“When Dennis Marwood arrived he wanted to get more into the retail side so we moved to Takanini. Some Americans had come out with a Formula 5000 Eisert which was crashed in a race at Bay Park. Ian Rorison bought the car and said if we straightened it out, Dennis could drive it. It was my job to straighten it out and be the mechanic.

“It was designed for Indianapolis, with long wishbones on one side and short ones on the other. You just wound the springs up a bit more on one side to get it balanced. Ron Grable’s mechanic married a New Zealand girl and took her back to America. Ken, I can’t remember his other name, said, ‘If you ever come over to America, I’ll get you a job.’” 

Ronnie Butler and Joe with the GM1 at Edmonton, Canada, 1972 Continental Series (Wright Collection)

Read the rest of this article in the May-June issue of NZ Classic Driver.

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