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‘Legend’ Not A Cliche When It Came To Dan Gurney

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 15 2018

Dan Gurney was joined by fellow American racing icon A.J. Foyt in winning at Le Mans in 1967. Gurney passed away on Sunday.

Dan Gurney, arguably the most versatile driver to buckle-up behind the steering wheel of a race car, has passed away.

Gurney _ who won races in NASCAR stock cars, Indy cars, Formula One cars and IMSA sports cars _ died Sunday from complications of pneumonia at age 86 in Newport Beach, Calif. Gurney was born on April 13, 1931 in Port Jefferson, N.Y.

The Gurney family issued the following statement: “With one last smile on his handsome face, Dan drove off into the unknown just before noon today, January 14, 2018. In deepest sorrow, with gratitude in our hearts for the love and joy you have given us during your time on this earth, we say, ‘Godspeed.’ 

Gurney won races at Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans and other top European circuits. He is one of only three drivers to win races in NASCAR Cup, Indy car, Formula One and elite sports car competition, along with Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya. Gurney drove for a handful of international marques, including Ford, Porsche, BRM and Brabham.

“Dan Gurney was not only a great innovator, he was a great driver and it didn’t matter if it was a road course or an oval, an Indy car or a stock car,” said A.J. Foyt Jr., who teamed with Gurney to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ford GT40 Mk IV in 1967. “I never use

Dan Gurney and A.J. Foyt made history in Le Mans in 1967.

the word ‘legend’ but in the case of Dan, he was a true legend of our sport. We became close friends at Le Mans in ’67 and winning it brought us closer together. He was a super guy. Even though we were competitors in the Indy cars, we always respected each other highly.

“As we got older we became closer, calling each other on birthdays or when we were sick. Now I’m glad we got to spend the time together we did at Long Beach last year along with Edsel Ford II. We told a lot of stories and we had a lot of fun talking about the old times.  It’s hard to believe he’s gone and I’m really going to miss him.  My thoughts are with (wife) Evi and his family.”

Gurney’s prominent peers included Americans Foyt, Andretti , Parnelli Jones and Roger Penske, as well as international grand prix stars Sir Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Sir Jackie Stewart.

“The word ‘legend’ can sometimes be overused, but in describing Daniel Sexton Gurney, it’s the only word that fits,” IMSA President Scott Atherton said. “Dan Gurney was an American racing legend who accomplished nearly all there was to accomplish as a driver in our sport, from sports cars to NASCAR, Indy cars to Formula One. Dan was an innovative car-builder and a lifelong steward of motorsports beyond his on-track performance. 

“In the world of IMSA, he was a championship-winning team-owner with his All-American Racers, and in later years, his son, Alex, would become a driving champion as well in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series.

“We’re confident Dan is spraying champagne in heaven right now.”

Alex Gurney teamed with Jon Fogarty to give GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing its GRAND-AM Rolex Daytona Prototype championships in 2007 and 2009. Dallas businessman/racer Stallings often has referred to Alex as a son, while establishing a friendship with the elder Gurney.

“Dan Gurney was an American hero and an inspiration to every member of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Team,” Stallings said. “He was one-in-a-million and will be missed. Dan leaves a phenomenal legacy behind and our thoughts are with Alex and the entire Gurney family.”

Gurney raced in Europe during the late 1950s and 1960s at a time when the American public was generally not following European racing anywhere close to now.

Dan Gurney in Lotus-Ford No. 93, testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Looking on are Jim Clark, Colin Chapman, and Ford Special Vehicles executives. Gurney qualified to start in twelfth position at 149.019 miles per hour. He finished seventh. (Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company)

Gurney enjoyed considerable success overseas, including winning four Formula One World Championship Grand Prix events, sharing the winning car in ‘67 at Le Mans with Texan Foyt, plus the 1960 Nurburgring 1000-kilometers with Stirling Moss.

Back in America, Gurney claimed seven United States Auto Club-sanctioned National Championship events in the late 1960s; five-of-six grueling 500-mile NASCAR stock car races held over the Riverside, Calif., road-course between 1963 and 1968; numerous events in the SCCA Can-Am and Trans-Am series and even the first professional road-racing series conducted in the United States, the inaugural USAC Road Racing Championship in 1958.

Gurney earned his first Formula One victory in the French Grand Prix in 1962. The following year he began a streak of four consecutive wins in the NASCAR road-course race at Riverside, driving for Holman-Moody (1963) and the Wood Brothers (1964-66). In 1967, he captured his first Indy car event at Riverside before winning his fifth and final NASCAR race on the same circuit in 1968.

“Dan was one of the best road-racers I’ve ever seen,” said Leonard Wood, a NASCAR Hall of Famer. “If I was sitting up in the stands by the esses at Riverside and you put 10

Dan Gurney takes on the Riverside road course in a Wood Brothers Ford. (Photo courtesy of Wood Brothers Racing)

different drivers in the car, I could tell you which one was Dan. He would always take the right approach to the turn, and I can’t say enough about how good he was. We had so much fun with him. If you got the car equal to anybody else, you were just home-free.

“Everybody told him he looked like he was on a Sunday evening drive out there. But he said, ‘You don’t know how hard it is to make it look like that.  You’ve got to discipline yourself to back-off at the right places.’^”

Gurney drove in nine consecutive Indianapolis 500s between 1962 and 1970 _ finishing second, second and third in the final three _ and was the winning manufacturer three times. Bobby Unser drove an Eagle chassis constructed by his All-American Racers company in Santa Ana, Calif., to victory twice (for Leader Cards, Inc., in 1968 and for Gurney’s team in 1975), and Gordon Johncock won in an Eagle for the Patrick Racing Team in 1973.

Of Gurney’s numerous accomplishments, undoubtedly the most renowned took place during an incredible eight-day period in 1967. On the weekend of June 10 and 11, he shared the winning Ford GT40 Mk IV with Foyt in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s premier endurance sports car race.

Having broken Enzo Ferrari’s stranglehold on the event in 1966 with co-drivers Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon in the Ford GT40, Ford entered a seven-car armada in ’67. Included were four 427 cubic-inch V8 Mk IVs shared by a world-class roster of drivers _ Gurney, Foyt, McLaren, Andretti, Mark Donohue, Lloyd Ruby, Denny Hulme and Lucien Bianchi.

“We were sort of voted the ‘least likely to succeed,’ because either he (Foyt) was going to burn it up or we would try to fight each other,” Gurney recalled in various interviews. “But

The Ford pits prior to the start of the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans. Dan Gurney and A. J. Foyt drove the Mark IV J-6 in the foreground to the win. It was the first time an all- American car had won at Le Mans. (Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company)

it dawned on me that his approach was better than mine. So when we finally did do it, we not only won the race but we also busted the average speed record by over 10 miles an hour. It was a fantastic win for both us and Ford.”

Foyt, who had won his third Indy 500 two weekends before in his No. 14 Coyote, never tested and had logged few practice laps in the red No. 1 Ford. Despite all that, he and Gurney and the car entered by Shelby American led an incredible 22.5 of the 24 hours, or just under 94 percent of the distance. They completed 388 laps/3,251.57 miles around the 8.365-mile circuit at a record average speed of 134.865 mph.

Foyt returned to Le Mans last June for the first time since that victory 50 years ago. In an interview with RacinToday.com at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth during the annual INDYCAR weekend, Foyt sadly noted that Gurney was too sick to make the trip back to France.

Asked how many hours he had logged behind the wheel that weekend in ‘67, Foyt said, “I think it was about 14-and-a-half hours or so. They couldn’t find Gurney on one of the (pit) stops. They were looking for him and he wasn’t where he was supposed to be and he said he was…and that was a shift around from 2 (a.m.)…we was running four-hour shifts. And my arms were hurting so bad because Gurney (at 6-foot-3) was so much bigger than I was (at 5-foot-10) and we didn’t have adjustable seats in there.

“We had a bubble on the top because he was taller. So when I’m driving, I had to have both my arms straight out. The pedals we split the difference because Gurney was a lot bigger than I was. But nah, it was great. I always tease him, ‘You knew the shift you wanted to miss’ because that’s when it was always foggy and they (traditionally) had a big wreck. That’s when Andretti didn’t race.”

On the very next Sunday, Gurney won the Belgian Grand Prix over the blindingly fast Spa-Francorchamps circuit, driving a Gurney Weslake-powered All-American Racers Eagle for which he was manufacturer and team principal. This remains the only occasion when an American driver won a points-paying Formula One World Championship Grand Prix at the wheel of an American car. Jimmy Murphy’s victory with a Duesenberg in the 1921 French Grand Prix took place almost 30 years before there was a World Championship for drivers.

After finishing second in the German Grand Prix, third at Portugal and fourth in the Italian Grand Prix for Ferrari in 1959 in front-engine cars, Gurney moved to BRM for a season

Dan Gurney piloted the Porsche 804 Formula 1 car in 1962.

and then to Porsche, for whom he won the 1962 French Grand Prix at Rouen in an eight-cylinder Porsche Type 804. That remains Porsche’s only success as a vehicle manufacturer in the Formula One World Championship.

Driving appearances for the German manufacturer in 1961 and 1962 created lasting memories for Gurney, who once remarked, “It was with Porsche that I really learned how to drive _ because they gave me cars that didn’t constantly break down and I could lay down the kilometers faster than ever before.”

Porsche also helped him to find lifelong happiness in his private life in the 1960s, when he married Evi, a former German motorsports journalist and secretary to Porsche Racing Manager Huschke von Hanstein.

In addition to his success with Porsche, Gurney also won both the French Grand Prix and Mexican Grand Prix for Brabham’s team in 1964.

By this time, Gurney already unintentionally had played a major role in changing the face of racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Despite being an enthusiastic spectator at East Coast Midget car racing events during his teen years, Gurney never had visited IMS before he went there as an entered driver in 1962. He was scheduled to drive a rear-engine turbine for John Zink but ultimately qualified a rear-engine Buick-powered car for Mickey Thompson after taking his “rookie” test, incidentally, in one of Zink’s Offenhauser-powered front-engine Roadsters _ a historical footnote about which Gurney was extremely proud.

Driving in the 500 while also competing on the Grand Prix circuit in those days required quite a bit of trans-Atlantic travel during May. After qualifying for the 1962 Indy 500, but well before the race itself, Gurney flew to Zandvoort for the Dutch Grand Prix on May 20. He had plenty to think about.

Although rear-engine cars had been entered for the 500 between 1937 and 1951, they had enjoyed virtually no success. But after then two-time/reigning World Driving Champion Brabham came to Indy the year before (1961) and drove an underpowered rear-engine grand prix Cooper-Climax to ninth, Gurney began to contemplate the potential of the lightweight rear-engine cars that were dominating F1.

Arriving in Holland, Gurney began trying to convince Englishman Colin Chapman of Team Lotus that he should go to Indianapolis. Chapman reluctantly agreed, but only after Gurney offered to pay his passage. Once at the Speedway, Chapman began to see the potential and his enthusiasm increased when Gurney confided that Ford Motor Company _ after an absence of several decades _ was considering an Indianapolis 500 entry and sought a team with which to partner.

A marriage soon was made, and a team of three production-based V8 Ford-powered Lotus cars were entered in the 1963 Indianapolis 500 to be wheeled by Chapman’s top driver, Clark of Scotland, and by Gurney, who was on-loan from Brabham. Clark went on to finish second in the 500 in the No. 92 Lotus. Gurney, down on power and making a second stop while Clark only made one, salvaged seventh in the No. 93 car.

Two years later, Clark drove the No. 82 Lotus Powered by Ford to the first rear-engine win in the Indianapolis 500, permanently ending the reign of the front-engine Roadster.

“When we talk about legendary American drivers, owners and car constructors on an international stage, Dan Gurney is one of the all-time greats,” said IMS President J. Douglas Boles. “His skill in all three areas helped him make an indelible mark and serve as a huge influence in this sport. Dan was a giant in the racing world, in every sense.”

Bobby Rahal, the 1986 Indy 500 champion, competed against Gurney and his AAR Eagles

Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby engage in a late-night chat during the 1966 race at Sebring. (Photo courtesy of Ford Racing)

at IMS. But Rahal added that his association with Gurney dates to 1960, when Dan joined the Road Racers Driving Club. Gurney remained an RRDC member for 57 years.

“It is with the deepest sadness and regret that we have to say goodbye to one of the most magnificent people to have represented our sport on this earth,” Rahal said. “He was not only an outrageously talented race car driver, influential businessman, team-owner and car constructor, Daniel Sexton Gurney was a gentleman, in every definition of that word. His magnetic smile, his sense of humor and absolute love of all things motor racing is unsurpassed.

“He was an international star, yet a humble celebrity. His devotion to his family was evident in the support he provided his sons to follow in his footsteps, on the racetrack and in the boardroom. With his wife Evi by his side, Dan could conquer the world. He conquered our hearts.”

In recent years, Gurney also enthusiastically embraced the role of ambassador for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, America’s version of F1’s famed Monaco Grand Prix.

“The employees and fans of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach are truly saddened to hear of the passing of racing legend Dan Gurney,” said Jim Michaelian, president/CEO of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach. “As well as being an icon in the world of motorsports, he was one of the founders of the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach and single-handily responsible for providing credibility in the effort to conduct the first modern street race in America in 1975.

“Dan was also a longtime Association board member and, true to his competitive spirit, won numerous Toyota Pro/Celebrity races on our city streets.  We thank his wife, Evi, and the entire Gurney family for sharing Dan with us for all these years.  Dan’s phenomenal racing record, indomitable spirit and contributions to our success will not be forgotten.”

There are many wonderful stories involving Gurney, who on race morning in 1968, wore the first full-face helmet ever seen at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

He was an unabashed “stand-on-the-gas” type as a driver, who dropped out of many races while in commanding positions. Gurney once confided that some of his favorite races had been ones he hadn’t finished, chuckling that he would far rather blow up while leading than be restricted to a strategic and disciplined pace to try and win.

Described by the Brits as “a bit of a lad” and prankster, Gurney experienced many serious moments during an era when racing safety was in its infancy and mortality rates high. Perhaps the most poignant Gurney anecdote took place at the funeral of Clark in April 1968, following his death in a crash during a Formula 2 race.

At one point during the service, a gentleman asked Gurney if he could spend a few private moments with him away from the others. The gentleman then identified himself as Clark’s father. He went on to explain that the family had seen very little of Jimmy in recent months, after the crippling British tax laws had forced him into following in the footsteps of others in the sports world and show business by moving to the continent, typically to the south of France.

“But when we did spend time with him,” Mr. Clark continued, “and Jimmy started discussing the other drivers with us, I wanted you to know that he told us on more than one occasion that the one he said he ‘feared’ the most as a competitor was you.”

The report is that Gurney began to cry, and decades later, tears typically would come to his eyes whenever Clark and his father were mentioned.

“Dan Gurney epitomized the best of American auto racing,” said Edsel B. Ford II, a member of Ford Motor Company’s board of directors and a close friend of Gurney.  “All of us involved in the Ford racing program mourn the loss of this great legend.  We will always remember his 1967 Le Mans win in the Ford Mk IV, his early testing of the Mustang I prototype, the Ford NASCAR wins with teams like the Wood Brothers and his vision for a Ford Indy car program that brought Colin Chapman and Jim Clark together.”

Gurney is a member of just about every motorsports hall of fame in the world, and was presented the Spirit of Ford Award in 1999, the company’s highest racing honor.

“Dan represented himself and his country with class and dignity in racing events around the world,” Ford said. “More importantly, we’ll remember that infectious smile, that twinkle in his eye when he told a great story and the love he had for Evi and his sons, Justin, Alex, Dan Jr., Jimmy and Danny.  We didn’t just lose a motorsport icon, we lost a friend.  There may never be another one like him.”

In addition to designing the closed-faced helmet, Gurney invented what became known as the “Gurney flap,” a small piece of metal attached to the rear wing of a car to increase downforce.

And, oh yes, Dan Gurney was the first driver to spray champagne during a Victory Lane celebration, standing alongside a grinning “Super Tex” in Le Mans.

Services will be private, per Gurney’s wishes. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Hoag Hospital Foundation in Newport Beach, Calif. Condolences and sentiments can be sent to eagleracingcarsusa@aarinc.com.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, January 15 2018
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