The Greatest American Racer Is Gone But Not Forgotten
Considered by many racing experts to be the "Greatest American Racer" of all time, Dan Gurney passed away this week of complications from pneumonia. The son of a Harvard business graduate and Metropolitan Opera singer, Dan's racing legacy began soon after his family moved from New York to Southern California. Living east of Los Angeles in Riverside, Gurney found his identity with the emerging hot rod culture. At age 19, his legacy began when he built and drove his own car at the famed Bonneville Salt Flats in an attempt to set a world land-speed record in his class. After that, the gifted driver set sail on his quest to compete with the best of the best in every style of automobile racing.
Very few racers reach the top rung of the ladder in a single form of racing as a driver much less as an owner, builder and engineer. But, the guy known as America's "Complete Racer" did it in sports car racing, Formula One, Indy car, NASCAR, IMSA and CanAm. After an impressive second place finish at the inaugural Riverside Grand Prix behind Carroll Shelby, Gurney's Formula One career began in 1959. The lanky Californian earned two podium finishes in just four races driving for Ferrari. After a serious accident the next year, Gurney developed his fluid driving style that included a unique way of braking to reduce the wear and tear on his vehicle. He posted his first Formula One win and the only win for Porsche as an F1 constructor in 1962.
Among American Formula One drivers, Gurney's four Grand Prix victories ranked second only to World Champion Mario Andretti. Moreover, driving the Gurney Eagle to a win in the 1967 Belgium Grand Prix, he became the second driver to ever win a Formula One race in a car of their own construction. Each year, Gurney would also return home to race the Indianapolis 500, an event that he never won as a driver but he did win seven Champ Car races. With backing from Goodyear tires, Gurney formed the All American Racers team using his own designs to win 78 races including 3 Indy 500s and the 24 Hours of Daytona. In 1992 and 1993, the team competed in the IMSA GTP series and posted 17 consecutive victories and back-to-back championships for Toyota.
Well known for innovations in the sport of motor racing, Gurney spontaneously began the familiar spraying of champagne from the podium when he teamed with A.J. Foyt to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the man that was known early on to be too tall to fit in most cockpits, the talented Gurney was no stranger to stock car racing. He posted four wins with the famed Wood Brothers racing team and finished his 16-race NASCAR career with 5 wins, 10 Top Tens and 3 poles. As one of the pioneers in aerodynamics, the tab used to adjust down-force on a racecar's wing is known as the "Gurney Flap". Dan Gurney will be missed worldwide as a great driver, innovator, engineer, team owner and car builder. Godspeed, Dan Gurney.
Photo credit dreamstime.com