The late Dan Gurney, whose varied and exciting career either side of the Atlantic gave Porsche its only F1 victory – at the 1962 Rouen Grand Prix. The Stuttgart firm was among the many mourners across the motorsport community who gathered to recognise his achievements.
Trailblazing American racing driver Daniel Sexton Gurney passed away recently at the age of 86.
Condolences came thick and fast from across the motorsport community after the announcement broke on Sunday, January 14. Gurney passed due to complications from pneumonia.
Gurney set numerous precedents during a career which encompassed driving, race car building and team ownership; that he won events in Formula One, Le Mans, Indycar, NASCAR, Can-Am and Trans-Am said much about his skill behind the wheel.
His racing exploits began with a Triumph TR2 at Torrey Pines in San Diego, fresh out of a two year stint in the Korean War as an artillery mechanic. By the end of the Fifties, he had competed at Le Mans; by 1962, he had had gifted Porsche its only Formula One victory. Driver and manufacturer benefitted mutually: Gurney gained some much needed seat time in a top European tier, and Porsche’s reliability record gained another famous patron. “It was with Porsche that I really learned how to drive–because they gave me cars that didn’t constantly break down and I could lay down the kilometres faster than ever before,” he recalled. Gurney would finish his racing career with 86 Grand Prix’s to his name.
The Swabian firm also helped him to find lifelong happiness in his private life when he married his wife Evi Butz, the former German motor sports journalist and secretary to the Porsche Racing Manager Huschke von Hansteinn.
Away from the track, his popularity blossomed further. The tall Californian was nominated for President of the USA by US car magazine Car and Driver- the first run of its red-white-and-blue bumper stickers quickly sold out, were hastily reprinted and have reappeared at several Goodwood Revivals. He was too young to challenge Lyndon B Johnson and Barry Goldwater in 1964 – but the strength of feeling remained. That year also saw the formation of All American Racers (AAR) with fellow driver and constructor Carroll Shelby; the team built Eagle badged single seaters that competed in Formula One.
Three years later, having wrestled the Ford GT40 MkIV to victory in the Le Mans 24 Hours, he stood on the podium with AJ Foyt , and sprayed the obligatory champagne into the crowd to celebrate their victory. No one had done that before; and other racers quickly took note.
“Dan Gurney was not only a great innovator, he was a great driver and it didn’t matter if it was a road course or an oval, an Indy car or a stock car,” Foyt told Autoweek magazine. “I never use the word legend, but in the case of Dan, he was a true legend of our sport. We became close friends at Le Mans in ’67 and winning it brought us closer together. He was a super guy. Even though we were competitors in the Indy cars, we always respected each other highly.
“As we got older we became closer, calling each other on birthdays or when we were sick. Now I’m glad we got to spend the time together we did at Long Beach last year along with Edsel Ford. We told a lot of stories and had a lot of fun talking about the old times. It’s hard to believe he’s gone, and I’m really going to miss him. My thoughts are with Evi and his family.”
Barely a week after Gurney’s Jubilation at Le Sarthe, champagne flowed creatively at Spa-Franconchamps in Belgium: helming an Eagle Weslake which his international team built, he took first place – not only in the rankings but as the first American to win a world championship Grand Prix in a car of his own design.
In 1968, he stepped up to the grid wearing a full face helmet, setting a safety trend which doubtless saved lives. That year, Gurney also designed and tested an aerodynamic aid for spoilers – a lip attached to the trailing edge of a wing which came to be known as the wickerbill or ‘Gurney flap’. It’s still in use to this day.
Dan Gurney is survived by his wife Evi, and his two sons, Justin and Alex. Few racers manage such a diverse career; a mere handful leaves their mark on motorsport in the way he managed. His legacy is assured.