As a near-winner himself of the Indy 500 (“When my oil pump broke it was a terrible shock, and frankly the Scottish economy has never recovered…”), Jackie Stewart was well placed to outline why relentless racer AJ Foyt and Roger Penske, supreme businessman and team principal for 16 Indy victories, were worthy nominees for the Hall of Fame. Stewart called the candidates “a collection of what’s best in America”. But it was Motor Sport’s readers who voted, and a cheer erupted when Sir Jackie announced the winner – “A man who if he were running today would become US president – Dan Gurney.”
The only person to be a candidate in two sections of the new-look Hall of Fame – he was a front-runner in the F1 section, too – Gurney’s record stands alone. Winning at Le Mans, in NASCAR, Indycar and Grands Prix would be impressive enough, but this is a man who decided to build his own cars, achieving victory at Spa in the gorgeous Gurney-Eagle (beating Stewart to do so), and founding and leading the hugely successful All-American Racers for over 40 years. Along with winning Indianapolis, Sebring 12 Hours and Daytona 24 Hours and eight championships, AAR also built and sold customer Eagles that won three 500s. Then he designed a revolutionary motorcycle.
But far from the tough business image that might evoke, Dan Gurney is famous as one of racing’s gentlemen, gracious and modest in all his dealings; it showed in his emotional response, delivered by video. “Motor Sport – the green one I remember Jenks writing for,” he said, cradling the award against a background of trophies. “I’m touched to be considered part of this group of people I looked up to all my life, some of whom I raced against, and I really appreciate the fans who voted for me. I’d like to say thank you very much to them. I’m glad I managed to get in.”
Following hearty applause, Sir Jackie went on, “Dan is a great gentleman apart from anything else. He’s one of the nicest men you could meet, a great credit to motor sport around the world.”
Perhaps the world has missed out on some of those qualities – “I’m serious about the ‘Dan Gurney for president’ movement,” said JYS. “I believe he could have been president, and not just because of the quality of the current candidates…” But instead motor racing has enjoyed his favours. “A wonderfully kind, generous man,” concluded Stewart. “I can’t speak too highly of him.” Gordon Cruickshank