The Passing of a Quiet Legend

Last week, the IndyCar community lost a giant of the industry that many had unfortunately forgotten about. Maurice (Mo) Nunn passed away last Wednesday from Parkinson’s Disease, just a couple of months shy of his eightieth birthday.

When most people try to assign credit for the success of Chip Ganassi Racing over the last few decades, most will likely point to Mike Hull. While Hull has been pivotal in their continued success, he didn’t join the team until 1992. During their run of success in the mid-to-late nineties, I always considered Mo Nunn to be the backbone of Ganassi’s organization. Apparently Mercedes-Benz thought so to, because they convinced Nunn to start his own CART team in 2000.

Alex Zanardi credits Mo Nunn for his CART championships with Ganassi in 1997 and 1998. Juan Montoya has similar feelings about his championship in 1999.

Mercedes left CART after the initial season for Mo Nunn Racing. Tony Kanaan drove for the team in all three years of its existence in CART. The team struggled in CART. Kanaan’s best finish in the points was ninth, and never finished higher than third. After Alex Zanardi’s release from Williams in Formula One, he returned to CART as Kanaan’s teammate at Mo Nunn Racing in 2001. Zanardi struggled to come close to his performance at Ganassi. He had only two Top-Ten finishes in his return before his horrendous accident at the Lausitzring near Brandenburg, Germany in which he severed both legs and nearly bled to death.

In 2002, Nunn probably got a little too ambitious. He ran Tony Kanaan in CART and Felipe Giaffone in the IRL – both for the full season in their respective series, with Kanaan also running the Indianapolis 500 for the very first time. Kanaan had two third-place finishes in CART that season, but Giaffone had three thirds, a second and a race win at Kentucky. Like many other teams that year, Nunn shut down his CART operation for 2003 and focused exclusively on the IRL. Kanaan joined Andretti-Green for 2003, so Nunn ran Giaffone and Tora Takagi that season. Nunn ran only one car in 2004 for Takagi, who finished fifteenth in the points. After the season, Mo Nunn Racing shut their doors for good and Nunn retired to the golf course.

I will admit that until he passed away last week, what you just read was all I knew about Mo Nunn. I knew that he had a stellar career with Ganassi and that Mercedes convinced him to start his own team, just before they pulled out of the sport. I knew his teams in CART and the IRL were undercapitalized, but I was still impressed with what he was able to do with such a small budget after the departure of Mercedes. Furthermore, I knew that he was highly respected by everyone in the paddock and that the results of his team were not indicative of his ability. It was simply a question of money and resources.

But that was the extent of what I knew about Mo Nunn. Until Robin Miller wrote an excellent article about him last week, I didn’t know that he had driven for Colin Chapman for Lotus before a young Emerson Fittipaldi edged him out of his seat. Nor did I know that Nunn had no formal engineering training. Everything he knew, he learned on the fly in his brief driving career that did not start until he was in his mid-twenties. But the man was considered a genius and was a sponge when it came to learning everything he could about every aspect of racing.

Miller’s article also taught me that it was Nunn who started and owned the Ensign Formula One team that competed from 1973 to 1982. Nunn left F1 and headed for the US, when he went to work with George Bignotti and later Vince Granatelli, where he worked with Roberto Guerrero. Later he worked with Pat Patrick (where Ganassi was) and was with them when Fittipaldi won his first Indianapolis 500 in a Penske chassis, beating Team Penske.

Robin Miller’s article was a fascinating read. I thought I knew quite a bit about Mo Nunn, but there was so much I didn’t know. From what I can gather, that is sort of emblematic of Mo Nunn the man.

Accolades poured in from literally all over the world last week, after we learned of Nunn’s passing. There seemed to be one common thread to what everyone said about him – he was a very modest man who didn’t care about money, glory or fame. He was just a racer, who enjoyed racing and doing whatever it took to go faster.

On Trackside last Wednesday night, Curt Cavin spoke very eloquently about Mo Nunn. He recited his career highlights off the cuff and unrehearsed. He spoke of all the people that Nunn had helped in their respective careers. He finished his memories of him by saying “…but above all else, Mo Nunn was just a very nice man and I considered him a friend.” When all is said and done, that’s about the best thing that can ever be said about a person.

By those that worked with him and knew him, Mo Nunn will be terribly missed. Nunn had stayed out of the spotlight for the past decade or so and many fans had either forgotten about him or didn’t even know who he was at the time of his passing. Based on what I heard about him this past week – I think that suited Mo Nunn just fine.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “The Passing of a Quiet Legend”

  1. Ron Ford Says:

    With regard to what No Munn was able to accomplish with little money, he reminds me of Dale Coyne.

  2. Mo Nunn disappeared from the racing scene and I didn’t think about him until I read Robin Miller’s article. It seems to me that he enjoyed his time in racing and left a good name for himself.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    Nunn was a tremendous competitor and he will be missed. I remember being very excited when he started his own team in CART. There are a host of good Mo Nunn stories in Alex Zanardi’s book, My Sweetest Victory.

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