Celebrating Dan Gurney’s Life
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.
Zach MartinPetersen Archives