Cel­e­brat­ing Dan Gur­ney’s Life

Hot Rod - - Con­tents -

How can some­one stop talk­ing about a man so highly re­garded as a rac­ing driver, in­no­va­tor, en­gi­neer, and leg­end? Spray­ing cham­pagne af­ter his Le Mans vic­tory set a trend, but it was just a foot­note in the almanac of ac­com­plish­ments Dan Gur­ney col­lected in his life­time.

Though his ac­co­lades in the arena of road rac­ing are most notable, like so many from the era, Dan got his start in hot rod­ding. Af­ter his fam­ily moved to River­side, Cal­i­for­nia, from Long Is­land, New York, in 1948, Gur­ney got in­volved in street rac­ing in the post­war per­for­mance boom of the 1950s. Street rac­ing, drag

rac­ing, land-speed rac­ing—he was there for it all.

His pas­sion for mak­ing his cars go faster, along with his skills be­hind the wheel, gained him a solid reputation among the street-rac­ing com­mu­nity. In a 2007 in­ter­view with Street Rod­der, Gur­ney re­counts get­ting called out to race in the mid­dle of the night. He drove to the track in his pa­ja­mas, raced, won, and went back to bed.

His pro­fes­sional rac­ing ca­reer didn’t be­gin un­til 1958 af­ter re­turn­ing from ser­vice in the Korean War. Get­ting no­ticed by U.S. Fer­rari im­porter and two-time Le Mans win­ner Luigi Chinetti earned Gur­ney a spot to drive along­side Bruce Kessler in Le Mans in 1958. Though the duo DNF’d, Gur­ney was asked to carry on driv­ing for Fer­rari in For­mula 1, where he didn’t dis­ap­point.

Not lik­ing the strict team man­age­ment at Fer­rari, he moved to BRM in 1960 and to

Porsche in 1961, where, un­sur­pris­ingly, he kept rack­ing up wins. He earned Porsche its only cham­pi­onship win in F1 Grand Prix rac­ing be­fore they pulled out af­ter the 1962 sea­son. His suc­cess at Porsche ex­tended off the race­track as well, as he met his fu­ture wife, Evi Butz, dur­ing his time there.

In 1965, Dan Gur­ney, Car­roll Shelby, and Goodyear Pres­i­dent Vic­tor Holt es­tab­lished the All Amer­i­can Racers (AAR). The goal was to build race cars in the U.S. that could stick it to the best from Europe and also Fire­stone, which was the big­gest tire com­pany in­volved in Euro­pean motorsports and road rac­ing at the time. This part­ner­ship spawned the Grand Prix and Indy Ea­gles, which be­came very suc­cess­ful in rac­ing all over the world and fea­tured the most well-known driv­ers of the era.

The big­gest vic­tory for the Ea­gle was on June 18, 1967, at the Bel­gian Grand Prix in Spafran­cor­champs, where Gur­ney set the fastest lap and won the race. To this day, he is the only driver to en­ter, fin­ish, and win a Grand Prix World Cham­pi­onship in a car that he also en­gi­neered and built.

Sev­eral days be­fore, Gur­ney and A.J. Foyt won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a Ford GT40. It was this race car that gave birth to one of the most iconic engi­neer­ing moves in Gur­ney’s ca­reer. Given his tall stature, he could hardly fit in the car, giv­ing birth to the “Gur­ney Bub­ble.”

Gur­ney and AAR also raced in every Indy 500 from 1962 to 1970. Though Gur­ney never won an Indy event as a driver in those years, vic­tory as a team owner came in 1968, 1973, and 1975. The team also raced in NASCAR, Trans Am, Can-Am, and IMSA—to name a few. These road-rac­ing series were the birth of leg­endary cars like the AAR ’Cuda and the IMSA Toy­ota Cel­i­cas.

Af­ter Gur­ney re­tired from driv­ing in 1970, he bought Car­roll Shelby out and con­tin­ued to man­age the AAR team. They built cars for their own en­deav­ors and cus­tomers look­ing for top-qual­ity machines.

From 1965 to 2012, AAR built 158 race cars, in­clud­ing: 4 For­mula 1 Ea­gles, 106 Indy Ea­gles, 20 For­mula 5000 Ea­gles, 13 IMSA GTP Ea­gles, 13 For­mula Ford Ea­gles, 2 Trans-Am Ply­mouth Bar­racu­das, 3 IMSA GTU Toy­ota Cel­i­cas, 3 IMSA GTO Toy­ota Cel­i­cas, 2 Can-Am McLEa­gles, 1 Lola Can-Am, and 1 Delta Wing.

HOT ROD would like to cel­e­brate his life by re­mem­ber­ing what he ac­com­plished and what he left be­hind. Gur­ney touched the lives of so many racers and en­thu­si­asts alike with his charisma, con­fi­dence, and un­in­ter­rupted drive to win. Not to men­tion that el­e­ments of engi­neer­ing and de­sign of his in­ven­tion are still around to­day: roof bub­bles on GT40s and Gur­ney Flaps on rear wings, plus his in­flu­ence on the rear-en­gine, open-wheel car move­ment. The Shelby Daytona Coupe he co­drove with Bob Bon­durant was “ac­ci­den­tally” made 2 inches taller just to fit his 6-foot-4-inch frame. There are few peo­ple in the rac­ing com­mu­nity who com­mand such es­teem.

Gur­ney was a mem­ber of a unique group of motorsports pi­o­neers that may never again be seen in our life­time. Times change, but there will only ever be one Daniel Sex­ton Gur­ney (1931–2018). May he live on in mem­ory with the rub­ber side down, a steer­ing wheel in his hands, and his right foot down.

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