Racing Legend Dan Gurney Dies At 86

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Dan Gurney 1931-2018

American racing legend Dan Gurney has died at the age of 86.

Gurney was the hero of many a racing driver and was one of the most versatile racers in motorsports history.

Gurney was successful driving sports cars, Indy cars and Formula One machines, among other types of race cars.

The following statement was distributed by the Gurney family: “With one last smile on his handsome face, Dan drove off into the unknown just before noon today, January 14, 2018. In deepest sorrow, with gratitude in our hearts for the love and joy you have given us during your time on this earth, we say ‘Godspeed.’

Much of the following obituary was adapted from a 2016 feature on Gurney in SPEED SPORT Magazine

He was part of a group that includes racing legends A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Parnelli Jones and Richard Petty — drivers who have transcended the glorious era of the late 1950s and the ’60s.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, Gurney never won the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the Indy car championship, a NASCAR championship or the Formula One championship. But he was a driver that excelled in any type of race car and he took on the rest of the world when he was a Formula One competitor from 1959 to ’70.

During that era, the late, great Jim Clark said Gurney was the driver he feared the most because of his competitive racing style on the grand prix circuit.

Dan Gurney on his way to winning the 1967 Belgium Grand Prix in his Eagle chassis. (Bob Gates Photo Collection)

Gurney did win some major races, including the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans with A.J. Foyt as his co-driver. In Formula One, he won twice at France’s Circuit Rouen les Essarts, he topped the Mexican Grand Prix in 1964 and his signature Formula One victory came at Belgium’s Circuit de Spa Francorchamps with a car he designed and built — the legendary Eagle — in 1967.

What made Gurney so great was his ability to win in very different types of race cars. In just 16 NASCAR Cup Series starts, he won five times — all at California’s Riverside Int’l Raceway. Gurney drove in just 28 USAC Indy car races and won seven times. He also won in Can-Am and Trans-Am competition.

His versatility, however, may be what kept Gurney from claiming some of the sport’s biggest prizes in all of auto racing.

“If Dan Gurney had focused on Indy cars instead of trying to race everything else, there is no doubt in my mind he would have been one of the greatest Indy car drivers of all time and a multiple Indianapolis 500 winner,” said three-time Indy 500 winner Bobby Unser, who drove for Gurney.

“Dan Gurney was also young when he quit racing — he was oh, so young. I really believed he had many, many years that he could have kept racing.”

Gurney’s other signature victory came when he joined forces with Foyt to drive the Ford GT40 Mk IV to victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“That was my 10th attempt and felt as though I was the elder statesman,” Gurney recalled from his Santa Ana, Calif., office. “I had been on the pole the year before. Briggs Cunningham was beating me every single time. I was running like the Tortoise and the Hare and in those days the Tortoise was a pretty good bet.