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Someone said, I don’t remember who, that all you need to know about Dan Gurney is in this photo of him, taken near Riverside, California in 1956. What 1,000 words does it inspire? Fearless is certainly one of them, and that’s good enough to start this conversation.
It’s fine if you don’t know who Dan Gurney is; I both did and didn’t, and I’m a race fan. For starters, there’s the matter of the Gurney Flap. Dan was testing a car at Phoenix with Bobby Unser and it needed more stability. He fabricated a solution in the matter of an hour. His solution changed both racing and aircraft, particularly helicopters. The principle of his solution is why race cars go as fast as they do today and remain stable and helps keep helicopters from spinning on their tails.
Dan was already accomplished prior to the spring of 1967. He had a remarkable month starting in May that year. He qualified second for the Indy 500, then flew to France with the race winner, A. J. Foyt, and teamed with him to win the 24 Hours of LeMans in the legendary Ford GT40 Mark IV. On the victory stand, he shook the large magnum of champagne and sprayed everyone around him. “Oh, yeah,” you think, “I’ve seen that before.” Well, Gurney invented that in 1967 on the podium in LeMans.
If you think that makes for a fine month, you’re right, but this story isn’t over. Seven days later he won the Belgian Gran Prix at Spa, and did it in a car he built. He is the only American to have done such a thing, and will likely remain so.
That’s just a little of the magic this man captured in his lifetime. Define the American Dream, apply it to auto racing, and it’s Dan Gurney’s story. He could drive anything and drive it fast. He won in F1, he won in IndyCar. He won at LeMans, he won in NASCAR, and many other shapes and forms of auto racing.
Don’t take my word for it: “Here’s the difference between Dan Gurney and the rest of us,” says Mario Andretti. “To many, the rest of us might be fortunate enough to be one of your racing heroes. But to all of us, Dan Gurney, he’s our racing hero.” (source: ESPN)
The 1966 film Grand Prix starred James Garner. “If there was ever a discussion about how do I look or act or, hell, just stand there and look the part, the solution was simple,” Garner recalled in 1999. “We’d look at Dan Gurney and say, OK, there’s the answer, and that’s what I’d do.” (ibid)
Dan Gurney was 86 years old. As is true with everyone, there will never be another.