Talladega, AL –Dan Gurney, a member of the inaugural 1990 class of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, passed away January 14, 2018. He was 86 years old.
Gurney did just about everything. He won Grand Prix races, he won NASCAR races, he won Indy Car races, he won the 24 Hours of LeMans, he won the 24 Hours of Daytona. He engineered new and exciting cars one of which made him the only American to win a Grand Prix race in a car of his own design. He possessed the talent to drive any kind of vehicle, but there are very few who have been able to do it consistently and win.
Trying to properly explain the impact Gurney had on motorsports is difficult because his accomplishments across all forms is so great.
He played an instrumental role in creating one of the most iconic moments in Ford Motor Company’s racing history and in the wake of that started a tradition which continues to this day when he and fellow IMHOF member A.J. Foyt (class of 2000) became part of the first, and to this day the only, all-American team to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1967.
The visual of Gurney hopping on the hood after Foyt crossed the finish line to give Ford its second straight victory in the iconic endurance race was only surpassed by the precedent of becoming the first person to spray champagne on the winner’s podium.
All of that came about as Gurney, who became the first driver to win at least one race in Formula One, NASCAR, Indy Car and Sports Cars, was hop-scotching around the globe competing in various forms of racing.
He gained his first Formula One victory in the Grand Prix of France in 1962 and the following year began a streak of four straight wins in the yearly NASCAR road course race at Riverside, driving for Holman-Moody (1963) and the Wood Brothers (1964-66). In 1967, he captured his first IndyCar event at the Riverside, Calif., road course before winning his fifth and final NASCAR event at the same place in 1968.
“Dan was one of the best road racers I’ve ever seen,” said NASCAR Hall of Famer Leonard Wood, who worked with Gurney during those winning years. “If I was sitting up in the stands by the esses at Riverside and you put 10 different drivers in the car, I could tell you which one was Dan. He would always take the right approach to the turn, and I can’t say enough about how good he was. We had so much fun with him. If you got the car equal to anybody else, you were just home free.
“Everybody told him he looked like he was on a Sunday evening drive out there,” continued Wood. “But he said, ‘You don’t know how hard it is to make it look like that. You’ve got to discipline yourself to back off at the right places.’”
Through the years he became associated with Ford through many different high-profile programs.
He served as the first test driver of the Mustang I concept car and made the initial laps with the prototype at the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen International in 1962.
Shortly thereafter, he became the last person to drive 999, which was the second race car built by Ford Motor Company Founder Henry Ford (IMHOF Class of 1993) in 1902. Gurney took the car, which was raced competitively by Barney Oldfield (IMHOF Class of 1990) in the early 1900s, around the Ford Dearborn test track in 1963 for a few laps before it was retired for good.
And Gurney was also responsible for bringing Colin Chapman and Jim Clark (IMHOF Class of 1990) to Ford to help produce the first rear engine IndyCar that led to the manufacturer’s first Indianapolis 500 victory in 1965.
But Gurney’s expertise in racing didn’t just pertain to the driver’s seat (he retired as a driver in 1970), he was an innovator who designed and built cars as well. He is the only American to win a Formula One race in a car he built by himself (1967 Belgian Grand Prix) and was instrumental in designing the closed-faced helmet. In addition, he invented what became known as the Gurney flap, which is a small piece of metal that is attached to the rear wing of a car, increasing downforce.