To the unfortunate racers whose cars he left dinged or crumpled in the dust at speedways across Minnesota in the 1950s, '60s and early '70s, William "Wild Bill" Mueller was "The Intimidator."
To the kids in his south Minneapolis neighborhood, he was The Hero. "All Dad had to do was rev his engine and all the kids would come running," said his son, William Mueller Jr. of Bloomington.
Mueller, a fearless, ruthless and wildly popular Minnesota racer of modified, jalopy and midget stock cars for almost 30 years, died of cancer March 23 at his Minneapolis home. He was 82.
His signature move was passing on the inside on the fourth turn of the last lap with two wheels in the air, said his daughter Veronica Wilson of Chisago City, Minn. "People either loved or hated him" and those who hated him did so with gleeful, noisy boos, she said. "They called him 'The Intimidator.'"
Mueller was born in Minneapolis. He dropped out of Roosevelt High School in 1945 to join the Navy after lying about his age. While stationed in San Diego, he "started to race midgets and got hooked," his son said.
In 1949, Mueller married and began a career as a truck driver. But every weekend, he'd head for a speedway. He won his first Minnesota Stock Car Racing Association trophy in 1953 and went on to garner several championships.
Mueller was brash and colorful. His fans loved him for climbing the fence to give kids tiny checkered flags after wins. Then there were the fights, rollovers and crashes -- lots of them.
In 1954 he demanded -- and received -- police protection at a jalopy championship at the former Twin City Speedway in New Brighton after being beaten up by a quintet of drivers and their pals, several of whom were charged with assault. They said his oft-winning car was souped up. Perhaps, too, they'd read a newspaper article from the week before in which he said, "I know how to drive, these punks don't. I've shown them who is boss on the track and off."
In 1960, he was kicked out of Raceway Park in Shakopee after he nudged another well-known racer, Norm Setran, off the track, his son said.
Mueller served as the first flagman when the Elko Speedway opened in 1966 and was an early inductee into that track's hall of fame. He stopped racing in the mid-1970s.
After retiring from his trucking job in 1970, he worked at the State Fair and volunteered for Meals on Wheels and Volunteers of America.
Mueller's wife, Betty Lou, died in 2001. In addition to Bill Jr. and Veronica, he is survived by another daughter, Irene Meisinger of Minneapolis; sister Celestine Woolcott of St. Cloud, seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.
Pamela Miller • 612-673-4290