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Gurney An Easy Choice For Racing’s Mt. Rushmore

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 17 2018

Dan Gurney, seen here behind the wheel of a Porsche 804 Formula 1 car in 1962, is a no-brainer when it comes to picking members of American racing’s Mount Rushmore.

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

 

The news of Dan Gurney’s passing over the weekend re-fired a raging and often hostile debate between me, myself and I which seems to flare whenever something of major auto racing significance makes headlines.

It’s the debate about which four American drivers are most deserving of having their visages cut into racing’s Mount Rushmore of the mind.

Criteria for inclusion is more about diversity, depth of accomplishment and legendary appeal than raw data: That is, the ability to drive and win in anything with an engine or motor, and participation in big, history-making moments on big stages.

Style and class also count and count big.

The first two picks are as easy as “courses” for “student-athletes” at the University of North Carolina: A.J. Foyt Jr. and Mario Andretti. The only debate about their hammer and chisel-worthiness on the monument is the long-running debate within the debate: That is, which is No. 1 and which is No. 1A on the list.

Both were primarily open-wheel drivers and both won Indy car championships and the Indianapolis 500. But they both drove during a time when NASCAR _ outside of the Daytona 500 _ was nationally irrelevant. Both won Daytona and showed in other races (specialty events like the International Race of Champions) they could win consistently in stock cars had NASCAR been their destination series. Both were terrific in sports cars.

The big stage moments for which Foyt and Andretti will, arguably, be most revered, occurred in Europe and because of that, each gave American racing fans two of their biggest, most joyous, most chest-inflating reasons to celebrate ever.

In 1978, Andretti won six Formula 1 races, eight poles and posted seven podium results en route to winning the World Driving Championship in Colin Chapman’s stunning Ford-powered black-and-gold John Player Special Lotus. The only other American to wear the laurel wreath was Phil Hill in 1961 with Ferrari.

Foyt’s singular biggie (as opposed to biggies, meaning “Super Tex’s” four Indy 500 wins) was Le Mans in 1967 when he co-piloted Carroll Shelby’s iconic, Ford GT40 Mk IV to victory at Le Mans. It was a victory that delivered the wonderful 1-2 punch of, first, letting the world know that America could compete with the best marques in the world on their most famous circuit and, second, it absolutely crushed the soul of Enzo Ferrari; prendi quel vecchio.

So, it’s Foyt and Andretti/Andretti and Foyt.

The co-driver with Foyt during that memorable 24 hours at Le Mans in ’67, and the reason for the timing of this piece, was Gurney. Including his as the third face on American racing’s Mount Rushmore, is, for sports car fans, every bit as easy as including Foyt and Andretti. Perhaps, even easier.

While not possessing Foyt’s out-sized presence or Andretti’s cool continental smoothness, Gurney had every bit the driving chops of the two and then another layer or three of complexity.

For a detailed and extremely interesting piece on Gurney’s life, times and accomplishments by a pro writer who this week is actually in position to comment on the man, read colleague John Sturbin’s RacinToday.com story from Monday (http://www.racintoday.com/archives/60011).

There is not much that can be added to Sturbin’s piece but there are a couple of points that can be re-emphasized. Gurney could/did drive and win in any kind of race car.

Still, a couple things push Gurney, perhaps, above and beyond Foyt and Andretti.

In addition to being adept with a steering wheel in his hands, Gurney also was adept when his hands were on wrenches and slide rules. Again, Ibid on Sturbin piece, but the dude won a Formula 1 race in a car (the All-American Racers Eagle) he designed and built! The driving genius also was a mechanical genius.

Tougher to quantify was Gurney’s intrinsic appeal. There was, for race fans in general and sports car fans especially, a fascination which his personality, accomplishments and spirit. Handsome, tall for a driver, California-ish even though he was born in New York State, yet loaded with understated elegance. He was cool and classy at a time when humility, smiling and introspection were considered cool and classy.

Gurney was one of those drivers who, during his day, sent race fans to blow through the newspaper sports section to find out where he had finished the previous day. Once the racing story was found, one usually didn’t have to dig too deeply into it to get information on Gurney and his finish. Gurney was a bigger, more important version of NASCAR’s Glenn “Fireball” Roberts.

At the track, walking the paddock at The Milwaukee Mile (nee State Fair Park) prior to an Indy car race, or at Road America for a Can-Am or Trans-Am event, a pilgrimage to Gurney’s area to see the car he was driving or the cars his All-American Racers organization had built, was semi-required in the 1960s and ’70s.

A glimpse of the man himself was an occasion and a must-photograph Kodak moment for those who were lucky enough to be carrying a camera.

Ah, Gurney’s cars. He drove the best. Some he did not drive but built. His AAR operation built fast, beautiful and successful cars. Iconic cars. Super-iconic cars across a range of series. Cars the man built and drove and became linked to history like:

_ The uber-historic dark blue Eagle Gurney-Weslake V-12 he built and drove to his victory in the Grand Prix of Belgium in 1967.

_ The equally historic red No. 1 Ford GT40 Mk IV he and Foyt co-drove to victory in the 1967 Le Mans 24 Hour Race and and so enraged “il Commendatore.”

_ The aqua-blue 1975 Indy 500-winning Jorgensen Eagle driven into Victory Circle by Bobby Unser.

_ The white Olsonite No. 5 Indy Eagle, which won the USAC Championship with Bobby Unser in 1974.

– The yellow-and white and unconventional 1981 Eagle powered by a Chevrolet stock block V8 engine. Mike Mosley put the car, known as the Pepsi Challenger, on the front row at Indianapolis in 1981 and scored a very strategic win from the back of the field at The Milwaukee Mile two weeks later.

_ The IMSA Toyota Eagle GTP car. Designed and built by AAR, it won two manufacturer’s championships and two drivers’ championships with Juan Manuel Fangio II and P.J. Jones driving. It won the last 17 races the team entered.

_ The red Lotus 19 of the Arciero Team, which Gurney drove to victory in the Daytona Continental _ a three-hour race in which he used gravity and the famous banking to coast without engine power over the finish line.

_ The silver Porsche 8-cylinder 1.5-liter Formula 1 car _ the historically underappreciated 804 _ which Gurney put into the Winner’s Circle of the 1962 French Grand Prix at Rouen. (Incredibly, that remains the only Formula 1 Grand Prix victory in Porsche’s illustrious racing history.) Gurney won another Formula 1 race at the non-championship Solitude Grand Prix outside Stuttgart in the factory’s sister car.

_ Yet another uber-iconic car was Colin Chapman’s white-and-blue No. 93 Lotus Powered by Ford, which in 1963 accelerated the rear-engine revolution at Indy. It was the sister car to the No. 92 Lotus/Ford driven by Jim Clark.

_ The 1960 “Birdcage” Maserati Tipo 61 that competed in the FIA World Sports Car Championship. This innovative car was driven to a rainy and foggy victory by Stirling Moss and Gurney at the famous Nürburgring 1000 kilometer race.

– The Holman-Moody Ford Galaxie, which Gurney drove to wins in NASCAR. Gurney also famously won NASCAR road-races in Fords fielded by the Wood Brothers in 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1968.

_ The Lola Ford in which Gurney won the first Can-Am race on an American track.

_ Those orange McLaren factory Can-Am cars and a modified McLaren called the McLeagle.

Because of all this and the history and the memories which swirl around Dan Gurney, he is, yes, a no-brainer for inclusion on American auto racing’s Mount Rushmore. In fact, without him, the monument would just be a chunk of rock.

After Gurney, Foyt and Andretti, picking the fourth member for the monument gets sticky and controversial: Richard Petty? Bobby Unser? Al Unser Jr.? Mark Donohue? Dale Earnhardt Sr.? Rick Mears? Roger Penske? All are personal favorites but will elicit major, heated debates and not just between me, myself and I. That argument will be reserved for another day.

But because of Daniel Sexton Gurney, the selection process for the monument is more than halfway home.

Thanks, Dan.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 17 2018
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