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Gurney Earned Unparalleled Respect from Fellow Racing Legends

In the history of American racing, there may have never been a more versatile race driver who exemplified class and innovation more than Dan Gurney.

Gurney, 86, passed away Sunday from complications of pneumonia at his Southern California home. Gurney finished second in the 1968 and 1969 Indianapolis 500 and third in his final Indy 500 start in 1970. He also was the first driver to win races in Formula One, IndyCar, NASCAR Cup and elite sports car competition, a list that only Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya have joined.

When Andretti drove to his only Indianapolis 500 victory in 1969, Gurney finished second.

“To me, Dan Gurney is on the highest podium because he fits the category of the best driver never to have won the Formula One World Championship,” Andretti said. “His versatility from my personal standpoint is what inspired me all along in my career. He has won in every form of motorsport he has ever competed in. He is a total icon – no question about it.

“In my book, he rates at the highest level.”

Andretti believes Gurney was aggressive but used an intelligent approach.

“He was always in for it – he wanted to be there for the win,” Andretti said. “Road racing was his strength, but he also did ovals and stock cars very well. In 1969, I was happy that Dan Gurney was second because the win was worth that much more when a driver like Gurney was second.

“He was always a class individual and a gentleman and someone I have the utmost respect for.”

Gurney was also an inspiration for drivers that later became IndyCar stars in the ensuing decades.

“He is like a Stirling Moss a little bit,” said three-time CART champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal. “Everybody says Stirling Moss was one of the greatest Formula One drivers, but he ever won a championship. Dan never won a championship, but if you look at Dan and everything he did as a driver, as a constructor he raced in Formula One in the early 1960s and won Brabham’s first Formula One race as a manufacturer, winning Spa with the Eagle and winning so many endurance races and major IndyCar races. The guy did it all.

“There are a lot of great drivers, but very few have done everything in motorsports. He was the driver that Jim Clark feared the most.
 
“Clearly, Dan is one of the sport’s greatest heroes. He made a mark in racing that very few people were able to make.”
 
Rahal remembers Gurney as fast but also as someone who knew how to make a car last.
 
“He won Indy as an owner with Bobby Unser,” Rahal said. “He was the most broad-based contributor to the sport of racing. I don’t know of anybody any better than that.
 
“I think Dan is a true hero, for sure.”
 
Four-time IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti thought so highly of Gurney that he flew all day from Scotland to be at Gurney’s 85th birthday party in 2016. He flew from Edinburgh, Scotland, to London to Los Angeles and averaged 105 mph on Interstate 405 to make the 1:30 p.m. party.
 
“What do you say about Dan Gurney?” Franchitti asked. “He won a lot of races in a lot of different cars, but he is more than the result sheet. He is a giant of our sport. He is smart. He is a great person. He is just one of those people that belong on auto racing’s Mount Rushmore.

“He’s an interesting guy. At the same time, he is very worldly but fiercely proud American.”
 
Franchitti admires that Parnelli Jones, Foyt, Andretti and Gurney raced all kinds of different cars in their era.
 
“He’s an incredible guy,” Franchitti said. “At his company, some of the stuff they are doing with the SpaceX stuff and thing things him and his sons Justin and Alex have taken the skills they learned from racing and moved it on. They are very clever people.
 
“What Dan did was massively important. When he made his own car, that was a big step and a very hard thing to do. It wasn’t easy. It would have been easy to continue to run with Brabham, but typical Dan wanted to do things his way. He won plenty of races and definitely did things his way. Another string to his bow was an Indianapolis 500 team owner.
 
“He could do it all.”

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Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears shares the same respect for Gurney’s diverse skills as his peers.

“I think Dan was right in the middle of auto racing history with the greats,” Mears said. “I think the one thing that separates him from the others is the engineering aspect of it – the design work with cars and development. He did a lot more of that than the other guys. In that respect, it’s another layer that he has that some of the others don’t.

“His versatility of driving anything and everything he is one of the best. He is one of the best of all-time in all of it. His name is as recognizable as all of the other names of that era. He is one of the all-time greats that helped build this industry into what it is today.”
 
Gurney competed in Formula One from 1959-70 and won major races in many disciplines, including the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans with A.J. Foyt as his co-driver. In Formula One, he won at Circuit Rouen les Essarts twice, Mexico City in 1964 and the signature Formula One victory of his career Circuit de Spa Francorchamps in Belgium with a car he designed and built – the legendary Eagle – in 1967. Gurney remains the only driver to win an F1 race in a Porsche.

What made Gurney so great is his ability to win in a Formula One race car, an Indy car, a sports car and a NASCAR Grand National (the forerunner to the Monster Energy Cup Series) car.

In just 16 NASCAR Cup starts, he won five times – all at Riverside International Raceway when he would annually whip the NASCAR field on the famed road course. Gurney drove in just 28 USAC IndyCar races and won seven times for another extraordinary percentage. He also won in Can-Am and Trans-Am racing.



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