On Sunday, legendary racer and car designer Dan Gurney died as a result of complications from pneumonia. He was 86 years old.
In motorsports, Gurney’s impact is almost immeasurable. In his day, Gurney was one of the most successful racers to come out of the United States. Gurney started 86 Grand Prix, scoring four career victories. The last of those victories, the 1967 Grand Prix of Belgium on the outright dangerous 9.8-mile Spa-Francochamps circuit, is the most notable of the bunch. That victory came with Anglo-American Racers in an Eagle-Westlake chassis, a car built by Gurney’s All-American Racers in California. Gurney’s best point finishes were a pair of fourths in 1961 and 1964.
In NASCAR, Gurney made only 16 career starts in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He won five of those races, all of which were at the now-closed Riverside International Raceway. One of the races was for Holman-Moody (1963), while the other four came for the Wood Brothers. Also of note, all of those races were 500 mile events and only one of the five (1968) was completed in less than five hours.
In American open-wheel racing, Gurney made 28 USAC Champ Car starts in and around his Formula One career. He won seven races, including coming back from two laps down to win the Rex Mays 300 at Riverside in 1967. In the Indianapolis 500, Gurney never won the race, but had second-place finishes in 1968 and 1969. As a team owner, Gurney won the rain-shortened 1975 Indianapolis 500 with driver Bobby Unser, but slowly became disillusioned with USAC. As a result, he wrote the White Paper in 1978, which advocated for the creation of Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART).
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw Gurney stay out of the box in regards in car construction. The Eagle chassis was quick at times and earned a surprising win with Mike Mosley at Milwaukee in 1981. Mosley’s win was the last victory for a “stock-block” engine in major open-wheel racing until the then-Indy Racing League switched to production-based V8s in 1997.
In 1996, All-American Racers returned to CART with a new version of the Eagle chassis and the new Toyota engine. The team struggled in their return to CART, but the Eagle chassis did find some takers. Robby Gordon purchased Eagles for Team Gordon in 1999.
In sports car racing, Gurney’s biggest accomplishment as a driver was winning the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ford GT alongside AJ Foyt at the height of the Ford vs. Ferrari showdown. On the podium, Gurney was presented with a bottle of Möet & Chandon champagne. In a fit of joy, Gurney shook the bottle and sprayed everyone in the vicinity in celebration of the accomplishment. The display inadvertently created a new celebratory tradition.
Gurney’s All-American Racers ran Toyota’s factory operation in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They started out in the GTO class with a Toyota Celica driven by the likes of Willy T. Ribbs. Later on, the team switched to the GTP class with Group C chassis. Given the ability to build their own chassis to run under the Toyota banner, All-American Racers created the Toyota Eagle Mk III, one of the fastest prototypes ever raced. With the new Toyota Eagle Mk III, All-American Racers broke Nissan’s reign and dominated the final two years of the GTP era. PJ Jones still owns the track record at Daytona International Speedway’s road course with his lap of 93.875 seconds (136.522 mph) set in the Mk III in 1993.
Outside of sanctioned racing, Gurney co-drove a Ferrari Daytona with Brock Yates to win the first competitive Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash in 1971. The duo drove from New York City to Redondo Beach, Calif. in 35 hours and 54 minutes, setting a cross-country record at the time.
Gurney is survived by his wife Evi and his children. Frontstretch sends our sincerest condolences to the Gurney family.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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