January 15, 2018

American Racer Dan Gurney Passes.

One of the true legends of motorsport passed away on Sunday.  Dan Gurney was 86 when complications from pneumonia "took him off the grid."  He was the first of only three men to win races in Sports Cars, Formula 1, NASCAR, and Indy Car, as well as Can-Am and Trans-Am.  But for all his accomplishments on track, and there were many, he may very well be known for some off-track things.


For example, he had what can arguably be called the best week in car racing history in 1967.  On June 11th, he and AJ Foyt, driving a Ford GT40 MkIV, won the 24 Hours of LeMans.  This marked back-to-back LeMans victories for Ford, totally unprecedented for the American manufacturer.  But that wasn't enough for Dan Gurney.  During the podium ceremony, he did something that no race winner anywhere had ever done before...

...he became the first winner to spray champagne from the podium.  Of course, this tradition continues 50+ years later in all forms of motorsports all over the world.  That right there is enough to make Gurney a legend, but not enough to make it the best week of racing ever.  The following Sunday, June 18th, was the Grand Prix of Belgium at Spa-Francorchamps.

Gurney, running both as driver and as team owner of Anglo-American Racing, drove the Eagle Mk1 to victory.  He became the second F1 driver to win in a car of his own manufacture, out of three.  But, and this is the part that cements him as one of the all-time greats, it became the first... and thus far only... F1 race win for an American-made car. 

But even THAT wasn't enough for Gurney.  He became the first to put a little vertical piece of material on the trailing edge of his car's wing, increasing the generated downforce substantially without much of an increase in drag at all.  This little thing became known as the Gurney Flap, and is used by just about any race car that has wings.  While it would be incorrect to say that he invented the device, as airplanes had been using it to increase lift instead of downforce for decades, he and his team were the ones who adapted it to cars.  About the only time you don't see them being used nowadays is at places like Monza, where you want as little drag (and thus downforce) as possible.

Dan Gurney won seven races in F1, seven times in Indy Car, five times in NASCAR, he won endurance races at the Nurburgring, Sebring, Daytona and LeMans, as well as many others.  He was the first big-name racer to wear a full face helmet.  When he retired from racing in 1970, he did so with some 51 race wins across all formats to his credit.  After that, he had a successful career as a constructor or team owner, with three Indy 500 victories in the record books.  For all of that and more, he is probably the preeminent American in motorsport.  I am secure in saying that his sort will never be seen again.

Posted by: Wonderduck at 10:12 PM | Comments (2) | Add Comment
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1 That was an amazing dude, right there.

Posted by: GreyDuck at January 16, 2018 08:47 AM (h8yX6)

2 Also worth mentioning is the "Gurney bubble" as demonstrated on the red car in the first image in your post.  No few "classic cars", replicas, prototypes, etc include that as a "this makes it look fast" feature, but in fact it originally had just one purpose - room for Gurney's helmeted head, as he was taller than the usual race driver.

Posted by: David at January 16, 2018 01:33 PM (h8yX6)

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