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Dan Gurney, motorsports legend, dies at age 86

Posted On Saturday, 20 January 2018 19:53 Written by
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One of the best racers of all time, capable of winning in every vehicle he competed in, has passed at the age of 86.
Dan Gurney drove in NASCAR for the Wood Brothers, raced at Le Mans, and much more. In 16 Cup series starts, he earned five wins and three poles. He earned four Formula 1 victories, 7 Champ Car wins. He won the 24 Hours of Le Mans alongside fellow legend A.J. Foyt in 1967 (the only all-American team to ever win the race). In short, he did it all.
He is also credited with inventing the tradition of spraying champagne after a race victory, a tradition that continues today in Formula 1 and other motorsports.


The 1960s were his heyday, as he went back and forth between various motorsports and won in all of them -- a feat matched by few in history (Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt are other examples, and more recently Juan Pablo Montoya).

He raced with some of the greatest teams of all time -- from Brabham Racing in F1, to the Wood Brothers and Holman-Moody in NASCAR. He won all five of his NASCAR wins at Riverside.

“Dan was one of the best road racers I’ve ever seen,” said Leonard Wood, a NASCAR Hall of Famer 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.’”

His connection with Ford racing continued after the LeMans win in 1967. He was 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.
He also was the last person to drive 999, which was the second race car built by Ford Motor Company Founder Henry Ford in 1902.  Gurney took the car, which was raced competitively by Barney Oldfield in the early 1900s, around the Ford Dearborn test track in 1963 for a few laps before it was retired for good.


Gurney was also responsible for bringing Colin Chapman and Jim Clark to Ford to help produce the first rear engine IndyCar that led to the manufacturer’s first Indianapolis 500 victory in 1965.

The skills Gurney had extended beyond racing; he could build racecars too.
In fact, he won a Formula 1 race in 1967 in Belgium in a racecar that he built himself -- the only person ever to do this. He also contributed to the design of the closed-face helmet.

Gurney was presented with the prestigious Edison-Ford Medal for Innovation by The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Mich., on Oct. 29, 2014.
"Dan Gurney epitomized the best of American auto racing,” said Edsel B. Ford II, a member of Ford Motor Company’s board of directors and a close friend of Gurney.   “All of us involved in the Ford racing program mourn the loss of this great legend.   Dan was a renowned driver and team owner.  He was also a celebrated innovator who received the Thomas Edison-Henry Ford Medal for Innovation from the Trustees of The Henry Ford.”

"Dan represented himself and his country with class and dignity in racing events around the world.   More importantly, we'll remember that infectious smile, that twinkle in his eye when he told a great story and the love he had for Evi and his sons, Justin, Alex, Dan Jr., Jimmy and Danny.   We didn't just lose a motorsport icon, we lost a friend.  There may never be another one like him."

Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company, echoed that sentiment.  “We are deeply saddened about the passing of Dan Gurney,” he said.  “His legacy as a racer and innovator may be unmatched in the history of the sport.  We are honored that so much of that legacy, including the All American Le Mans victory in 1967, came with Ford.  He was a great friend to Ford and respected around the world.  We offer our condolences to his wife, Evi, and his family.”

Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

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