Gordon Kirby

In a class of his own

Dan Gurney celebrates his 86th birthday on April 13. The great man has aged in recent years, surviving two strokes, and rarely travels. His loving wife Evi is always by his side while his sons Justin and Alex run All American Racers’ thriving composite component manufacturing business.

Looking back over more than a century of motor racing, it’s clear to many of us that Dan stands out as America’s greatest racing icon. His achievements in all kinds of cars – including F1, Indy, Can-Am, sports cars and NASCAR – put Dan in a class of his own, ahead of even Mario Andretti.

Then of course there’s the magnificent line of Eagle F1, Indy and IMSA GTP cars. Gurney is the only American driver to win a Grand Prix in a car built and raced by his own team (Eagle-Weslake V12, Spa 1967). The previous weekend Gurney teamed up with AJ Foyt to win the Le Mans 24 Hours driving a Ford MkIV. Those successes define his driving career.  

As a sports car driver Gurney was as good as they come. Ferrari hired him in 1959 and, after showing his speed, he was promoted to the F1 team. Dan won the ’59 Sebring 12 Hours with Ferrari and the Tourist Trophy at Goodwood, too, co-driving with Tony Brooks. He also won the Nürburgring 1000Kms in 1960, co-driving a Camoradi ‘Birdcage’ Maserati with Stirling Moss.

Then there are his many great showings in Can-Am, while in NASCAR he dominated a string of races at Riverside, his home track, winning January’s 500-mile race five times between 1963-68.

And don’t forget his successful second career as a team owner and car builder. Over a 34-season stretch from 1966-99, AAR built and raced winning F1, Indy and IMSA cars.  

Bobby Unser recorded the first of three Indy 500 victories for Eagle in 1968 and a few years later the legendary ’72 Eagle-Offy, designed by Roman Slobodynskyj, set new standards for oval track racing. The ’72 Eagle broke the 200mph barrier for the first time in Jerry Grant’s hands and destroyed the track record at Indianapolis by 17mph with Unser at the wheel. Gordon Johncock won the ’73 Indy 500 in a car run by Patrick Racing, Bobby Unser took the ’75 Indy 500 driving for AAR and no fewer than 20 Eagles were in the field in ’73. 

In the 1980s/90s AAR was very successful in IMSA with Toyota, building and racing championship-winning GTU, GTO and GTP cars. AAR’s spectacular Eagle-Toyota GTP won 17 straight races – 23 altogether – and successive IMSA championships in 1992 and ’93. 

Beyond these many accomplishments, Gurney is an erudite man with a keen sense of humour. Fans are impressed with his humble manner – and that’s why he is a class apart.