(This interview with one of the sport's great characters is from my 1990 book Grand Prix People. At the time Tyler was not a big fan of F1 journalists, though he has mellowed and recently authored two books about his eventful life.)
Tyler Alexander first became involved in McLaren when it began, having been one of the team's founding members. He must have some special insights into Formula 1 racing. What does he think about the pinnacle of motorsport and the people who shove tape recorders in his face when he's trying to work?
"I think this thing's like an overbred cocker spaniel, and most of it's created by the journalists, because it isn't anything any different than it's ever been. You come here, you fuck around with a car, it's got four wheels and a motor in it, you start it up, and you're on. But the journalists pump it up into something else. I mean, there's all those people crowding around in the garages. There must be fifty million pictures of Ayrton Senna, sitting in there picking his nose!"
Well then, what about all the prestige, glamour and mystique that you hear about in Formula 1?
"Bullshit! Racing is just a plain old bunch of very difficult, complicated hard work that's a pain in the ass. Sure, it's an exciting big deal thing. And the drivers are very important. The good ones are very good and certainly deserve a lot credit. But to be successful you have to have a lot of good people. It takes a whole bunch of people. It takes a design team, engineering team, the backup people at the factory, the driver, the race team itself."
After studying aircraft engineering in Boston, Alexander helped a friend prepare a Formula 3 car which they raced successfully. He became friends with Teddy Mayer and his brother Tim, Roger Penske and Jim Hall, all of whom went on to become deeply involved in racing, though Tim Mayer later suffered a fatal racing accident. In 1964 Alexander and Teddy Mayer came over to England and teamed up with Bruce McLaren's new organization. Now, in the hierarchy of McLaren International personnel Tyler Alexander is listed as Special Projects Manager, responsible for the management of all development programs.
Over the years Alexander has also spent some time in Indycar racing in his native America. Where then, would he prefer to be?
"In Mexico, Scuba diving."
According to Alexander, racing takes up too much time, too much of the time. He might also rather be sailing or even taking photos of Ayrton Senna picking his nose. In fact, Alexander is an accomplished photographer. Some of his work has been published in American magazines and there have been exhibitions of pictures he took during his early days in racing. His preferred subject matter is not cars, but people. His technique for getting candid shots is to "basically, hide in the crowd."
Speaking of people, how would he compare Formula 1 people with those in Indycar racing?
"They all put their pants on one leg at a time."
But aren't the CART people more relaxed and casual? They actually talk to each other, while in Formula 1 there seems to be a lot of animosity...
"I guess if people have their head up their ass, they have their head up their ass, you know. I don't think there's anything here that breeds the animosity except the people themselves, and if they choose to be like that, well that's their own problem."
He must have noted big changes in the Grand Prix people over the years...
"Well if you look around, you'll find that a lot of the people here are exactly the same ones."
One of the big changes since the early days is the money, the sponsorship aspect of the sport. Some people, the purists, say that it was better in the old days.
" "Well I've never really been able to understand what a 'purist' is. That sounds like a phoney load of bullshit for somebody to call something a sport when it's really a business. Once upon a time it was a sport, yes, but that was an awful long time ago. It was a business to us when we started. I mean that's what we were doing for a living. That's it, that's all we did."
Nowadays, when he walks down pit lane, is it possible to describe what goes on in his mind.
"Not that you'd want to hear, No!"