TODD TODD TODD

Racing world mourns passing of legendary driver, designer Gurney

Updated: 

(A version of this story originally appeared as exclusive content on the Verizon INDYCAR Mobile app.)

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.

The 86-year-old Gurney died today at his Southern California home, according to a statement from his wife, Evi, that read:

“With one last smile on his handsome face, Dan drove off into the unknown just before noon (PT) 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.’

“Evi Gurney, the Gurney family, and AAR teammates”

According to the Gurney family, the racing legend who finished second in the 1968 and 1969 Indianapolis 500 and third in his final Indy 500 in 1970, died from complications to pneumonia. While he never won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” he did win seven races in just 28 Indy car races over a nine-year career.

Gurney’s runner-up finish in 1969 came when Mario Andretti drove to his only Indianapolis 500 victory.

“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.”

Gurney’s success far exceeded Indy cars, as he also won in Formula One, Trans Am, endurance racing and more. He and A.J. Foyt teamed to win the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, when Gurney was credited with the first champagne spray to celebrate.

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 (in the Indy 500) 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 who would later become Indy car stars.

“He is like a Sterling Moss a little bit,” said three-time Indy car champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal. “Everybody says Sterling Moss was one of the greatest Formula One drivers, but he never 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 Indy car races. The guy did it all.

“Clearly, Dan is one of the sport’s greatest heroes. He made a mark in racing that very few people were able to make.”

Gurney is also remembered for his creativity in designing race cars and engines. Rahal remembers Gurney as fast but knowing how to make a car last. 

“He won Indy as an owner with Bobby Unser (in 1975),” Rahal continued. “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 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti thought so highly of Gurney that he flew from Scotland to be at Gurney’s 85th birthday party in 2016.

“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.”

“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 (in F1), 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.”

Gurney is also known for penning the “White Paper” that led to team owners forming Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) in 1978 and breaking from racing under the USAC banner. 

“I think Dan was right in the middle of auto racing history with the greats,” said four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears. “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, logging four victories, including at Spa in Belgium in his own chassis in 1967. In just 16 NASCAR top-level series starts, he won five times – all at Riverside International Raceway when he would annually whip the NASCAR field on the famed California road course.

Doug Boles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, echoed the sentiments of many in the sporting world in a statement about Gurney.

“When we talk about legendary American drivers, owners and car constructors on an international stage, Dan Gurney is one of the all-time greats," Boles said in the statement. "His skill in all three areas helped him make an indelible mark and serve as a huge influence in this sport. Dan was a giant in the racing world, in every sense. Our sincere condolences and prayers are with his wife, Evi, and the entire Gurney family. Godspeed, Dan Gurney.”

According to the Gurney family, the funeral will be private. In lieu of flowers, consider donations to Hoag Hospital Foundation in Newport Beach, California. Those wishing to express their sentiments to the family may send an email to eagleracingcarsusa@aarinc.com.

Below is a gathering of social media responses to Gurney's passing:

RIP Dan Gurney. I was first inspired by him when I was in midgets dreaming of being like him. I was last inspired by him yesterday. Yes, I mean forever. He understood me better than anyone else, which is why he wrote the foreword for my book in 2001 #DanGurneyHasFinishedTheRace pic.twitter.com/twMkM2Mn0U

So sad to hear about Dan Gurney passing today. He was an icon and blazed the path of new technologies in our sport. But mainly he was just a great guy who will be sorely missed! #RIPDanGurney

https://t.co/Bxp4etpyc7 I just heard that my hero passed away today...Daniel Sexton Gurney. This is so sad and my thoughts, prayers and love to the Gurney family. Dan was one of the Titans of the sport. Godspeed Dan...I’m sure you’ll be pushing the envelope in heaven.

#RIPDanGurney, arguably the greatest American driver of all time. Accomplished so much internationally & helped form Racing into the sport it is today. Thank you Dan, our thoughts are w/ the Gurney family at this time. #AllAmericanRacer

VERY Heavy hearts tonight after learning Dan Gurney passed on. AJ lost a close friend, Racing a true Legend. #RIPDanGurney #AllAmericanRacer #InternationalLegend #F1 #Indycar #NASCAR #IMSA

I’ve always admired pioneers like Dan Gurney, who came up with brilliant ideas & changed their industry forever. Spraying champagne on the podium, or even the aerodynamic Gurney flaps... Dan did so much for our sport. We remember him as a legend! #DanGurneyHasFinishedTheRace pic.twitter.com/n20Ygz98t7

I’ve known and competed against the greatest drivers of all time, Dan Gurney was a hero of mine not just because he was a great racer but because he was a great person, he will forever be missed, RIP Dan Gurney

Sad to hear about Dan Gurney’s passing. The best there’s ever been. Not ‘one of’ or ‘probably the’ but THE VERY BEST. Prayers to his family...

From the fans