Dan Gurney 1931-2018 
Autosport|January 18,2018

Dan Gurney 1931-2018

Paul Fearnley

Car and Driver’s‘Dan Gurneyfor President’campaign of1964, though tongue in cheek, caught the collective imagination. That’s because everybody admired this 6ft 3in, handsome, enthusiastic – and fast – racer, who died from complications related to pneumonia last Sunday, aged 86.

Born on April 13 1931 and raised on Long Island, Daniel Sexton Gurney wedded East Coast civilities – father John was a prominent opera singer at the Met – with theWest’s sure-cando spirit once the family relocated to Riverside in South California, the hotbed of hot-rodding, in ’48. By the early ’60s his astronaut aura and crew cut had charmed Europe, while his hands-on NASCARmusclings – he had a linebacker’s shoulders – had swayed the Jim Crow South. A fluid driver who was easy on the brakes – he could chuck it in on a charge when roused – he was the first to win in Formula 1, Indycars, international sportscars and NASCAR; only Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya have matched his feat. He also scored victories in Can-Am, Trans-Am and the British Saloon Car Championship. Dan was the man.

Jim Clark certainly thought so.Moving anecdotal evidence – an aside from Jim’s father at his son’s funeral – suggests that Gurney and not Graham Hill, nor John Surtees, nor even young Jackie Stewart, was the rival the 1960s benchmark feared most. It was when under pressure from Gurney’s Brabham at the ’65 Race of Champions that Clark made a rare error and trashed his Lotus against the bank on the outside of Brands Hatch’s Bottom Bend.

Mention of Clark’s posthumous ‘nomination would often cause Gurney, an unapologetic romantic, to well up, his voice to crack. Photographs of his chatting easily and unconcernedly to Clark alongside their out-of-fuel cars – Gurney’s Brabham BT7 had dominated the 1964 Belgian Grand Prix until the last few laps – and their genuine surprise and shared pleasure at the PA’s announcement of the Scot’s inherited victory are indicative not only of a more relaxed (albeit more dangerous) time, but also of their fighter pilots’bond and Gurney’s sportsmanship. He wasn’t always so relaxed, though.

His finicky tweaking of machinery bordered on mania, while his stream of set-up suggestions, when unsolicited, drove uptight teams to distraction. Their rebuttals would be met by a look of pure ‘dontcha-wanna-win?’ mystification. Gurney knew his own mind. Always had. Always would. The more enlightened teams knew his method for what it was: a stoking of the fire. If a fractional and therefore theoretically indiscernible swap of rollbar thickness generated greater confidence and inspiration within the cockpit, then so be it. For Gurney rarely, if ever, let them down.

His revelling in all aspects of the sport meant it was no surprise when he founded an eponymous team in Santa Ana, California, in 1962. Two years later, with funding from Goodyear and the support (until ’70) of Carroll Shelby, this morphed into All American Racers (AAR). Gurney worried that the name suggested by Goodyear president Victor Holt was too jingoistic, but it stuck and he made it work. A smooth-talker – he could be a cussed advocate/opponent should the mood or occasion take him – a capable mechanic, a confirmed tech-head and an innovative and inspirational boss, Gurney had all bases covered. But, having learned during a three-year F1 stint alongside Jack Brabham, the founding father and best of the era’s influential owner/drivers, it was inevitable that Gurney would give the role a personal slant.With a tendency to gravitate towards the more onerous route – disproving naysayers was perhaps his favourite thrill – he saw no reason why Americans, admittedly with crucial British and Australasian input, could not build a competitive single-seater, fit it with a bespoke V12 and win with it thousands of miles from home.

Despite honing his driving skills on the dirt roads of California’s orange groves, and despite building a 1932 chopped-top Ford coupe, it was reading about European road-racing, not gunning along Bonneville’s salt, that had enthralled the young Gurney. Released from the army in ’54 – he served in Korea – he turned his attention to the tracks and made his debut in October ’55 at Torrey Pines in a Triumph TR2. Incredibly, he would take his grand prix bow, with Ferrari no less, fewer than four years later.

His West Coast sportscar rise, via Porsche 356, Lancia Aurelia and Chevy Corvette, had been rapid even before Frank Arciero offered him his Ferrari 375 Plus in 1957. This 4.9-litre V12 had a fearsome reputation, yet lanky – verging on gawky – Gurney, with fewer than 20 starts (mostly in 100bhp/100mph cars) to his name, grabbed it, conquered it, won with it.

Such abundant promise caught the attention of Luigi Chinetti, Ferrari’s most influential American importer, who placed Gurney in a North American Racing Team-run Testa Rossa at Le Mans the following year; he ran as high as fifth before his co-driver crashed. Enzo Ferrari, impressed, signed him for 1959.We’re talking serious momentum: Gurney won on his Scuderia Ferrari debut, playing a lesser role in a four-driver effort at the Sebring 12 Hours, and finished second, third and fourth in his second, third and fourth GPs in the front-engined V6 Dino. Yet he found Ferrari’s parochial attitude towards his drivers stifling, verging on demeaning, and was stunned by his boss’s Luddite technical tendencies. It was obvious to Gurney that rear-engine was the way to go and so he switched to BRM for ’60. Polite but firm, Gurney was never

along simply for the ride. His need ran deeper than speed. Seven years later at Spa he became only the second man to win a GP in a car of his own construction – and he remains the sole American driver to win in an American F1 car, albeit one designed by a Brit, Len Terry, and powered by a British engine.

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