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Auto racer Dan Gurney
Richard Deutsch
June 02, 1997
MAY 27, 1963
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June 02, 1997

Auto Racer Dan Gurney

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MAY 27, 1963

Dan Gurney's surname evolved into an adjective during his days as auto racing's most versatile driver. First came Gurney luck, a term used to refer to the freak mechanical breakdowns that often sabotaged him during his early years behind the wheel. Then came the Gurney grin, which was how people described the smile he flashed after he began winning races of all types, from Grand Prix to sports car to Indy.

Thanks to the youngest of Dan's six children, 22-year-old Alexander, another Gurneyism may soon be hatched: Gurney worry. Alexander inherited Dan's high-speed-driving gene and is considering taking up racing now that he has graduated from Colorado. Dan, whose credo as a driver from 1955 to '70 was "Go as fast as you can without getting killed," isn't thrilled with Alexander's career choice. "As a father I'd be happier if he were excited about something else," says Dan, 66, who lives in Newport Beach, Calif., with his wife, Evi. "I just hope he'll learn about the dangers the easy way instead of the hard way."

Dan was also a father of invention. Using his influence as one of auto racing's most respected drivers, he accelerated the shift from front-engined to rear-engined cars at Indy by persuading Ford and Lotus in 1961 to improve upon that relatively successful but not yet popular configuration. In 1965 Jimmy Clark drove a Lotus-Ford to victory in the 500. Thus began the rear-engine dominance of Indy that continues today. Gurney then dedicated himself to the construction of an American car fast enough to win a European Grand Prix, something no U.S.-built machine had done since 1921. His efforts led to the development of the Eagle, with a Weslake V-12 engine and a chassis designed by Gurney and built by Len Terry. In '67 Gurney drove one to victory in the Belgian Grand Prix, averaging 145.982 mph, then a Formula One record. Gurney never won the Indy 500 as a driver—he was second in '68 and '69—but Eagles won the race three times.

Since retiring from driving, Gurney has managed All American Racers, a team that has successfully fielded cars in a variety of racing classes. In '92 and '93 All American cars swept 17 straight International Motor Sports Association GTP races. Gurney's team has struggled since switching last season exclusively to the PPG CART World Series. "But these are growing pains," says Gurney with the confidence of an old champion. "We have a strong team, and we'll be fine."