The term “icon” is so over-used in today’s sensationalist society that when we encounter someone or something that truly merits the appellation, it may seem somehow diminished. Well, the shining light that was Dan Gurney will not be diminished by being called an icon, for he is truly deserving of the designation.
Dan passed away last Sunday morning, January 14, at the age of 86 from complications of pneumonia, leaving us all the poorer, but the better for having known him.
Although Car and Driver magazine mounted an impressive Dan Gurney for President campaign in 1964, in reality Dan was more suited to the role of an American ambassador to the world, his handsome countenance, inquisitive nature, superb sense of humor and beaming smile radiating warmth and American excellence to all with whom he made contact.
He did so much so well in so many different places, all at the same time. He drove virtually anything with wheels, and won. He was the first driver to win a major race in all the top professional categories, Sports Cars, Formula One, Indycars and Stock cars. He was a friend to all who met him — until anyone became foolish enough to cross him — and he made America great in the eyes of the racing world, holding the Stars and Stripes high for all to see and showing that America, and an American, could compete on the world stage. Truly the All American Racer.
Even restricting ourselves to the highlights of his driving career leaves us with a huge list of accomplishments — again, in more than one arena. For example, one such list shows him to be the: inaugural USAC Road Racing Champion, in 1958, driving a Ferrari 375 Plus and a Ferrari 335 Sport; winner of the 1959 12 Hours of Sebring with Phil Hill, Olivier Gendebien and Chuck Daigh in a Ferrari 250TR; winner, with Stirling Moss in a Birdcage Maserati, of the 1960 running of the Nürburgring 1000 Kilometers; winner in 1962 of the first Daytona Continental in the Frank Arciero’s Lotus 19; winner of Porsche’s first and only Grand Prix in 1962; winner of Brabham’s first Grand Prix in 1964; winner, in a Cobra with Jerry Grant, of the over-three-liter GT class in the 1964 Targa Florio; winner, in a Cobra Daytona Coupe with Bob Bondurant, of the over-three-liter GT class in the 1964 24 Hours of Le Mans; winner of the second Can-Am race ever held, at Bridgehampton in 1966, Ford’s only win in the series; winner of Mercury’s first Trans-Am, with a Cougar at Green Valley, Texas, in 1967; winner, with A.J. Foyt in a Ford MkIV, of the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans; winner of the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix with his own AAR Eagle-Weslake; winner of the Riverside NASCAR Cup race five times in six years between 1963 and 1968; winner of the Rex Mays 300 Indycar race at Riverside in both 1967 and 1968; winner of the Indycar doubleheader at Mosport in 1968; winner of the Indycar road races at Indianapolis Raceway Park and Brainerd, Minnesota, in 1969; winner of the Sears Point Indycar race in 1970; and winner, with Brock Yates, of the inaugural Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, in a Ferrari Daytona in 1971.
Then as the leader of All American Racers, he built winning cars for Formula One, Indycars, Formula 5000, Formula Ford and IMSA GTU, GTO and GTP. Eagles won three Indy 500s, 47 other National Championship races and two Indycar titles, two Formula 5000 championships, a Formula Ford National Championship and two IMSA GTP championships. As a constructor, AAR won the 24 Hours of Daytona in 1993 and the 12 Hours of Sebring in both 1992 and 1993, as Eagle MKIII-Toyotas won 21 of 28 IMSA GTP races entered from July of 1991 to October of 1993 — including 14 straight — as the team swept to dual championships in both 1992 and 1993 for driver Juan Fangio II and manufacturer AAR. AAR also won dual IMSA GTO championships in 1987 for driver Chris Cord and manufacturer Toyota with its Celica Turbo.
In 1962 Dan bought a plane ticket to bring Colin Chapman over to see the Indy 500 and by so doing kicked open the door to the rear-engine revolution in Indycars that Jack Brabham and John Cooper had opened. He is also credited with creating, at Le Mans in 1967, the post-race champagne-spraying victory tradition, pioneering the Bell Star full-face helmet at Indy and in F1 in 1968, inventing the ubiquitous aerodynamic aid the Gurney Flap, in 1971, authoring the famous “White Paper” report that led to the formation of CART in an effort to save and grow Indycar racing in 1978 and playing a crucial role in the creation of the Long Beach Grand Prix by designing the original circuit layout. Through it all there was the development of his Alligator motorcycle concept, which kept him occupied and inspired…
In recognition of his career accomplishments, Dan Gurney has been inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, the Sebring International Raceway Hall of Fame and the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame.
To the end of it all he remained a charismatic and quick-witted man who was always looking ahead to what would be coming next, just so he could be ready for it. To his wife Evi, sons John, Danny, Jimmy, Justin and Alex, and daughter Lyndee, as well as his legions of fans and friends,Vintage Racecar extends its sincerest condolences.