Newport Beach, CA — Following Dan Gurney’s death Sunday (Jan. 14) from complications with pneumonia, accolades for and tributes to the American hero of auto racing have been plentiful and poignant.
It’s agreed that Gurney embodied the best qualities of a man and a racer.
–From the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, on Gurney attending Jim Clark’s funeral in April 1968:
Gurney attended the service, along with virtually the entire Grand Prix brigade, but with the angular Gurney standing head and shoulders above his colleagues. At one point, a gentleman came over and asked Gurney if he could spend a few private moments with him away from the others.
The gentleman identified himself as Clark’s father. He went on to explain that the family had seen very little of Jimmy in recent months, after the crippling British tax laws had forced him into following in the footsteps of so many others in the sports world and in show business by moving to the continent, and typically to the south of France.
“But when we did spend time with him,” Mr. Clark continued, “and Jimmy started discussing the other drivers with us, I wanted you to know that he told us on more than one occasion that the one he said he ‘feared’ the most as a competitor was you.”
The report is that Gurney began to weep, and indeed, decades later, tears would typically come to his eyes whenever this was mentioned.
But that 1967 season also saw Gurney truly step up to all-American hero status. He had first transcended motorsport’s narrow boundaries three years earlier when Car & Drivermagazine started a tongue-in-cheek campaign with a Dan Gurney for President campaign.
Now, in one stunning three-week period, Gurney had finished second in the Indianapolis 500, won the 24 Hours of Le Mans with A.J. Foyt in a Ford GT40 MkIV, and conquered Spa [Belgian Grand Prix] in a Formula 1 car of his own construction. Oh, and he had started the now traditional champagne-shake for race winners, after spraying Henry Ford II on the podium at Le Mans…
Along the way, he invented the Gurney Flap, a right-angle extension on the upper trailing edge of the [race car’s] rear wing that increases down force. It is used today on just about every race car that has wings. He was also the first big-time driver to wear a full-face helmet.
Gurney is survived by his wife, Evi, and four children. Services will be private, per Gurney’s wishes. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Hoag Hospital Foundation in Newport Beach, Calif. Condolences and sentiments can be sent to email@example.com.