Dan Gurney

Full Name:
Daniel Sexton Gurney
Born:
13th April 1931
Port Jefferson, New York State
Died:
14th January 2018 (Aged 86)
Newport Beach, California
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

Dan Gurney was a true legend of motor racing on both sides of the Atlantic. He was a winner in Formula 1, the World Sportscar Championship, Can-Am, Indycars and NASCAR. Further to that, he established Eagle and All-American Racers as an iconic marque and team that were as successful as the man himself.


Family background and national service


The son of a New York opera singer, the lanky and ever-smiling Gurney became interested in the sport while watching midget racing at his local track on Long Island. However, it was European road racing that fascinated him most for he was inspired by reading about the likes of Tazio Nuvolari and Rudolf Caracciola.


His family moved to California in 1948 on his father’s retirement and they settled in Riverside. Gurney had already driven on the Bonneville Salt Flats but his racing ambitions had to wait until after two years service in the United States Army that included action in the Korean War.


Early racing career


Gurney’s first race was at Torrey Pines in 1955 with a Triumph TR2 but he soon upgraded to a 1600cc Porsche 356 Speedster. Within a year he was a winner for the first time in a sports car race at San Diego’s Montgomery Field.


Growing success in California driving Frank Arciero’s Ferrari led to his first international opportunity in 1958 when invited to race for Luigi Chinetti’s North American Racing Team in the Le Mans 24 Hours. Lying fifth during the night, co-driver Bruce Kessler crashed into the spun car of "Jean Mary" and their Ferrari 250TR burst into flames. Kessler was injured but "Mary" lost his life.


Formula 1 with Ferrari and BRM


Gurney joined the works Ferrari team in 1959 and the 28 year old proved to be a real find. Winner of the Sebring 12 Hours, he made his Grand Prix debut in France before finishing second in Germany and third in Portugal. Fourth in the Italian GP completed an impressive F1 debut. The American proved to be one of the most talented drivers of the 1960s. He scored the maiden GP victory for three different marques but championship glory would not follow.


Rather than remain with Ferrari for 1960, Gurney joined BRM but it was a season blighted by poor reliability and tinged with tragedy. His brakes failed entering Zandvoort’s Tarzan Corner during the Dutch GP and a boy was killed in the subsequent heavy accident.


Formula 1 breakthrough for Porsche


Two seasons trying to establish Porsche in F1 yielded his best championship result and a first GP victory. Second place finishes at Reims, Monza and Watkins Glen helped Gurney to equal third in the 1961 World Championship and he scored that maiden victory in the 1962 French GP at Rouen. He won the non-championship race at Solitude a week later although those were Porsche’s only successes of an otherwise disappointing programme and it withdrew at the end of the year.


Successful in stock cars and Indycars


Like Mario Andretti a decade later, Gurney’s ambitions were broader than just F1. He drove a Holman-Moody Ford in the 1962 Daytona 500 and raced in selected NASCAR events throughout the decade. He was almost unstoppable at Riverside and his Ford won that stock car race on five occasions.


He also made his Indianapolis 500 debut in 1962 and it was Gurney who introduced Colin Chapman to the Ford hierarchy in America. That sparked Lotus’s ultimately successful assault at the Brickyard but Gurney would not win the 500. He qualified in the middle of the front row in 1967 and finished second in 1968 and 1969. Gurney also won seven Indycar races during his career.


Formula 1 with Brabham


Gurney joined Jack Brabham’s F1 team in 1963 and was fifth in that year’s world championship. Two GP victories during 1964 included the team's breakthrough success at Rouen with the Brabham BT7-Climax. He was fourth in the following year’s standings after finishing on the podium for the final five races of the season.


All-American Racers and Eagle


But Gurney left to establish Eagle and AAR in 1966 just as Brabham became genuine championship contenders. The dark blue livery and aggressive shape of his cars were soon well-known and helped to foster affection for a popular marque. Victories in the 1967 Race of Champions and Belgian GP with the Weslake V12-powered car were the highlights but that and the following season were blighted by mechanical failures.


Le Mans success and F1 finale


The 1967 season provided Gurney with a unique place in motor racing history. He won the Le Mans 24 Hours sharing a Ford GT40 with A.J.Foyt Jr. Gurney accidentally sprayed champagne on the podium and that started a motor racing tradition of wasting fine wine.


Eagle withdrew from F1 at the end of 1968 but Gurney made three final GP starts as stand-in for Bruce McLaren after his friend was killed in 1970. His final appearance as a driver was scheduled to be the Riverside Trans-Am race in October 1970. However, he made a one-off return 10 years later as Dale Earnhardt’s team-mate in the 1980 Winston Western 500 NASCAR race at Riverside in which he ran second before retiring. He was a regular in the annual celebrity race at Long Beach for a decade – winning four times.


Successful team owner


His cars won the Indy 500 in 1968 (Bobby Unser), 1973 (Gordon Johncock) and 1975 (Unser again). AAR and Eagle ran Toyota’s IMSA programme from 1983 and they moved into the GTP class six years later. That culminated in championship victories in 1992 and 1993 for Juan Manuel Fangio II although a subsequent spell in the Champ Car World Series was a bitter disappointment.


His popularity was reflected by the "Dan Gurney for President" campaign organised by Car and Driver magazine. A charismatic star in America and Europe, four GP victories do not do justice to his talent. That he was special was confirmed at Jim Clark’s funeral when the Scotsman’s father told Gurney that he was the driver that his son had most admired. It was high praise for an exceptional man.

Championship seasons

Season Name Starts Poles Podiums Wins Position Points
1980 Winston Cup Grand National 112th 79
1970 F1 World Championship
Bruce McLaren Motor Racing
3 0 0 0
0% win rate
22nd 1
1970 Can-Am Challenge
Bruce McLaren Motor Racing
2 0 2 2 0
1970 USAC National Championship
All-American Racers
3 0 2 1
34% win rate
12th 1000
1969 USAC National Championship
All-American Racers
9 5 7 2
23% win rate
4th 2280
1968 NASCAR Grand National
Wood Brothers Racing
1 1 1 1 0
1968 F1 World Championship
Anglo-American Racers
Brabham Racing Organisation
9 0 0 0
0% win rate
21st 3
1968 USAC National Championship
All-American Racers
5 4 4 3
60% win rate
7th 1800
1967 USAC National Championship
All-American Racers
2 1 1 1
50% win rate
12th 600
1967 International Championship of Makes
Shelby American
1 0 1 1 9
1967 F1 World Championship
Anglo-American Racers
11 0 2 1
10% win rate
8th 13
1966 Can-Am Challenge
All-American Racers
1 1 1 1 0
1966 F1 World Championship
Anglo-American Racers
8 0 0 0
0% win rate
12th 4
1966 NASCAR Grand National
Wood Brothers Racing
1 0 1 1 0
1966 USAC National Championship
All-American Racers
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1966 International Championship of Makes
Shelby American
2 1 1 0 6
1965 USAC National Championship
All-American Racers
3 0 1 0
0% win rate
27th 230
1965 NASCAR Grand National
Wood Brothers Racing
1 0 1 1 0
1965 F1 World Championship
Brabham Racing Organisation
9 0 5 0
0% win rate
4th 25
1965 International Championship of Makes
Shelby American
1 0 0 0 0
1964 NASCAR Grand National
Wood Brothers Racing
1 0 1 1 0
1964 USAC National Championship
Team Lotus (Overseas)
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1964 F1 World Championship
Brabham Racing Organisation
10 2 2 2
20% win rate
6th 19
1964 International Championship of Makes
Shelby American
3 0 1 0 10
1963 NASCAR Grand National
Holman Moody Racing
1 0 1 1 0
1963 F1 World Championship
Brabham Racing Organisation
10 0 3 0
0% win rate
5th 19
1963 USAC National Championship
Team Lotus (Overseas)
3 0 1 0
0% win rate
11th 580
1963 Speed and Endurance World Challenge
North American Racing Team
1 0 0 0 0
1962 USAC National Championship
Mickey Thompson
1 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1962 F1 World Championship
Porsche System Engineering
Autosport Team Wolfgang Seidel
7 (1) 1 2 1
15% win rate
5th 15
1962 Speed World Challenge
Scuderia SSS Repubblica di Venezia
1 0 0 0 0
1961 World Sportscar Championship
Porsche
Porsche System Engineering
2 1 1 0 6
1961 F1 World Championship
Porsche System Engineering
8 0 3 0
0% win rate
3rd 21
1960 World Sportscar Championship
Briggs Cunningham
Lucky Casner
2 1 1 1 8
1960 F1 World Championship
Owen Racing Organisation
7 0 0 0
0% win rate
0
1959 World Sportscar Championship
Scuderia Ferrari
4 1 1 1 12
1959 F1 World Championship
Scuderia Ferrari
4 0 2 0
0% win rate
7th 13
1958 World Sportscar Championship
North American Racing Team
1 0 0 0 0