The third principal is the man inside the car, almost swallowed by it, with just his head and shoulders showing above the cockpit. Under a black crash helmet, polished like night sky, his face is set in the chiseled line of his customary Mt. Rushmore expression. His eyes glint cobalt-blue, and long lines down both sides of his mouth form the world's deadliest dimples. Women hovering near him buckle slightly at the knees. It is Dan Gurney (SI, May 27, 1963), the living assurance to every worried mom that hot rodders do not all grow up bad, and whose magnificent face, even in repose, makes cinema racing drivers look faintly suspect.
And the biting, beautiful thing about the moment is that the car does not even have to win the race. In fact, winning the race would be too much. Just rolling the American Eagle out on the grid at Monaco—and to the starting line at other tracks on the Grand Prix circuit—will mark the fulfillment of an American dream. It will mean that some gutsy citizens have finally built a high-winding, fast-stepping U.S. Grand Prix car and are going to gas it up and try the Europeans at their own game on their own grounds.
Not only will it be there but, honest to George M. Cohan, Gurney and Shelby expect it to be a winner. The two of them and a fat, wealthy line of sponsors have staked a million dollars, the amount of money it took to develop and build it. If it does not win this year, then next year it surely will, because there is another million back where the first million came' from. And if that money runs out, maybe the whole country ought to support the project ( Lyndon Johnson could rename the car Eagle Bird) to keep Eagle running and thereby keep the rest of the world loose.
In sober truth, the odds against American Eagle are long. First, the team of Shelby and Gurney is a crazy mixed-up American hybrid, something like a partnership of Toots Shor and Billy Sunday. Second, Grand Prix racing is not our game. It is their game, and the Europeans rule it with supercilious assurance. The U.S. drivers who are good at Grand Prix racing have gotten that way driving other countries' cars. Back in the 1950s, when Shelby was wheeling Maseratis and Aston Martins around Monaco, he told everyone who would listen (not many of them did) that an American would one day be world driving champion. They laughed at noire cowboy until 1961, when Phil Hill became the first American to win the title. But Hill did it driving an Italian Ferrari.
In 1960 Lance Reventlow made this country's only serious attempt at Grand Prix racing in more than 40 years. He built some cars called Scarabs, but they were outclassed.
Americans have a hard time identifying with any sport that does not offer one a great deal of sudden money. Grand Prix racing pays off mostly in prestige and glamour, uncashable commodities. Road racing also wanders all over the place. It never settles in one compact, closed track such as the Indianapolis Speedway, where a man can sit down with a hamper of potato salad and beer and sec the whole thing from the grandstand.
To Europeans, whose roads are narrow and whose cars are small, Grand Prix racing comes as a natural extension of a way of life. It is—like their personal driving—full of guile and tricky corners, and the race is not to the swift, but to the best downshifter. Through most of Europe the only thing an auto trunk can or need hold is a bottle of wine and a wedge of good cheese, and a racing car is none the less for having an engine that would fit in a Detroit glove compartment. But the glamour of Grand Prix is starting to get to Americans, and if ever the world was ready for a pair of evangelists like Gurney and Shelby the time is now.
Says Shelby: "We've got this name—American Eagle!—that falls on your ears just right. We're over there and, out of courtesy to us, they are nice about this, they play our national anthem and our flag is out there with all the others. And there stands Gurney with his shining face. It's by-God beautiful."
The buildup for the star-spangled scene they both can see inside their heads is taking place in a 16,000-square-foot auto shop on South Broadway in Santa Ana, Calif., a typically American neighborhood occupied by a couple of automobile dealers and a furniture-moving company, and where a truck comes around twice a day selling hot coffee and sandwiches. The place is called, in neat lettering on the front window, All American Racers, Inc.
Inside AAR the executive offices are paneled in soft-beige woods, dappled with a fingerprint frieze where President Gurney has come in from the shop section and leaned against the wall. The place is spotted with pictures and trophies from Gurney's racing career, including a hammered silver tray from one race that a secretary keeps piled with candy because people were always crushing out cigarettes in it. Gurney comes in wearing what racers call "leathers," which means heavy leather pants and a leather jacket. He has blackened, cracked hands and a face to match. He makes scratchy sounds when lie walks, and when he smiles through the layer of dust his teeth are startlingly white.