Here are six reasons race car driver, designer, car owner Dan Gurney, who died Sunday at age 86, is one of the most significant and legendary figures in American motorsports history.
▪ One of the most versatile great drivers ever, Gurney epitomized the era when great drivers hopscotched across series. He became the first driver to win races in sports cars (1958), Formula 1 (1962), NASCAR (1963) and Indy cars (1967). Only two other drivers, Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya, have done that in the 50 years since.
▪ Gurney and A.J. Foyt won the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans in the monster Ford GT Mark IV with a drive still considered one of the most masterful ever at Le Mans or in endurance racing. After the victory, Gurney inaugurated the custom of spraying champagne from the podium.
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▪ A week later, Gurney became the only American driver to win a Grand Prix in an American-made car when he won the 1967 Belgian Grand Prix in the Eagle Mk 1 that he built. Only three American-made cars have won a Grand Prix, only two in since the Formula 1 world championship series began in 1950.
▪ Versions of Gurney’s Eagle chassis dominated Indy Car racing in the 1960s and 1970s whether designed by Gurney or, later, others out of his All-American Racers shop. In Gurney Eagles, Bobby Unser shattered the one and four-lap qualifying records at Indiananpolis by over 17 mph in 1972 and won the 1975 Indianapolis 500 driving for Gurney. Unser drove an Eagle to his first Indianapolis 500 win (second place: Dan Gurney) and Indy Car series title in 1968.
▪ He accelerated the change in American open wheel racing from front engine roadster to rear engine car by convincing Team Lotus’ owner and designer Colin Chapman to compete in the 1963 Indianapolis 500. Jim Clark, who won the Formula 1 world driving championship in 1963 and 1965, finished second and Gurney seventh in rear-engine Lotuses.
▪ The International Motorsports Association notes Gurney was the first driver to compete in a full face helmet.