Dan Gurney (1931-2018) was an American race car driver, constructor and team owner, the Renaissance Man of the American racing. His career started in the late ’50s and he was active in racing until 1970. In that period, he achieved results which put him among the greatest legends not only of the North American motorsport but also in the world.
He was the first man ever to score wins in three different types of racing - in the sports cars, stock cars (NASCAR) and Grand Prix cars (IndyCar and Formula One). Among numerous wins, his greatest achievement is a victory at 1967 Le Mans 24 Hours. In the same year, he scored his fourth Formula One victory but the first ever for the American driver in an American car. He did that in an Eagle F1 car, driving for Anglo American Racers, the team he founded in 1964, later known as All American Racers.
Gurney was also an innovator, not only in technical matters (Gurney flap or first closed helmet) but he was the first racer to set a tradition of spraying champagne on a podium, doing that while celebration Le Mans victory in 1967.
Driver who was dreaming of top speed cars
Dan Gurney was born April 13, 1931, in Port Jefferson, New York. Gurney spent his youth in California where he was caught up in the hot rod culture and the vivid West Coast racing scene of the ’1950s. Soon enough, he began to race on an amateur level and demonstrated great potential and skill.
Since he came from an engineering background, he had already managed to build his first hot rod/race car by the age of 19, and even went to Bonneville Salt Flats to pursue his dream of achieving top speeds. His amateur career came to end when he was drafted and sent to Korea to serve in the Army.
Dan Gurney driving Ferrari Testa Rossa at Goodwood, 1959
Gurney's F1 Championship racing career started with Ferrari
In 1957, he was called to test an Arciero Special, a race car built from parts of various manufacturers. The car was fast but it was quite a handful for the drivers because of its tricky handling. Of all the known drivers, Gurney was the only one who could control the car, being even quite successful at it, as he managed to finish second in the Riverside Grand Prix. This success opened a lot of doors for him and very soon he became a test driver for Ferrari Formula One team.
In 1959, he debuted in F1 behind the wheel of a Ferrari 246/256 F1. Soon he moved to BRM but in 1960 had an incident during the race when his brakes failed and he crashed, killing a spectator. After that, he was signed on with Porsche and managed to achieve his first F1 win in the 1962 French Grand Prix. He raced in Formula one in 1970, but because of his involvement with other series and racing events, he never participated for the full season.
Video - Dan Gurney drives his Eagle at Spa
Victory at 24 Hours of Le Mans
During the ’60s, Gurney became involved with Ford and Shelby American. He raced and won with the Ford GT40 at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In 1967, he and AJ Foyt won the famous French race and introduced something that has become synonymous with winning races ever since. After the win, Gurney spontaneously shook his bottle of Moët & Chandon and sprayed it on everyone around the winners’ circle. That was the first time that the winner of a race did something like that. Since then, the moment has become a symbol of victory in the history of motorsport.
Dan Gurney celebrates victory at 24 Hours of Le Mans, 1967
Gurney was a true celebrity who made news headlines
During the ’60s, Gurney was competing in Indy 500 (1962-1970), but in parallel to that, he also had a successful NASCAR career. In NASCAR, he drove Ford Galaxy race cars and managed to accumulate 5 wins and 10 podium finishes. He was better at road courses than on the high-speed ovals.
During that period, he was one of most popular American racing drivers and was even considering standing for the American presidency, but couldn’t as he didn't meet the age criteria. The Car and Driver magazine even printed sticker and promotional material for his campaign!
In the late '60s, Dan Gurney was so popular that Ford introduced the Mercury Cougar XR7 Gurney Edition, a special edition of their model with Dan's signature. At that point, Gurney also drove a Cougar in Trans-Am championship.
Dan Gurney driving a Ford
Car constructor and racing driver career at the same time
Since his crash in 1960, Gurney became skeptical of racing engineers and planned to construct a race car by himself to enter Formula One. So in 1966, an Eagle race car debuted with the Gurney Westlake engine and beautiful design and appearance. During its first season it scored some championship points, but ended up taking a historic victory in the Belgian Grand Prix in 1967 with Gurney behind the wheel of his own car.
By the early ’70s, Gurney retired from endurance racing and Formula One, but Chrysler hired him to participate in the Trans-Am championship with his version of Plymouth Barracuda called AAR Cuda (All American Racers). The car was fast and the team was good but Ford eventually won the title.
After that, Gurney started participating as a team owner more frequently than as a driver, although he continued to race in NASCAR and CART series.
Dan Gurney with AAR Cuda, 1970
Member of many Halls of Fame
Today, Dan Gurney is still active as a consultant and organizer of many racing events and classic car reunions. In 1990, Dan Gurney was inducted the into International Motorsports Hall of Fame. He is also a member of the American Motorsports Hall of Fame as well as the Sebring International Raceway Hall of Fame.