January 14, 2018
The Eagle has flown
Daniel Sexton Gurney, affectionately known as “The Eagle” passed away at age 86 from complications due to pneumonia Sunday in southern California. I am saddened deeply by the passing of another of my motorsports heroes. I do not have a great many who I looked up to, however, Dan was one.
My big four in motorsports include; Richard Petty (who I got to talk with in the media room at Indy), Mark Donohue (never got to meet him other than seeing him in the Formula One garage at the Watkins Glen F1 in October 1974), Dan Gurney (never met in person), and Roger Penske (hope to meet at Daytona 24 race in a couple weeks).
To me Dan was someone who was a model for other race drivers, team owners, or human beings to follow. By all reports he was genuine, humble, sincere, and smart. He had to be a great driver to survive to the ripe age of 86 when many of that era died in races.
I am reading reports of a multitude of fans who have their unique stories about Dan Gurney encounters. Often he would take the time to stop what he was doing and pose for photos or offer a word of encouragement or thanks to fans young and old.
One such story is that of Bruce Boembeke who was attending the 1967 Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In Bruce’s words this is what happened, ” This is a photo of Mr.Gurney and a kid, at Indy, May-’67. The story behind the photo follows.”
“Back in the day, the area behind the front straight grandstand and the garages, is where you could catch the drivers if you were quick enough, or in this case, Dan comes walking by and I ask if I can get a picture.
“‘SURE!’ he says with a big smile and then extends his hand and asks for my camera!”
“What? (I’m thinking, man I’ve got pic’s from all day in this thing) but its DAN so I hand my Instamatic over to him.”
“Then he turns and to some random passer-by is handing the guy my camera. Dan says “Take our picture”, he comes back to me, and again extends his hand. I’m a kid, it takes a minute to have the gesture sink in, he wants to shake hands!”
“Oh my god…I clasp his hand (his hand is Huge) and ‘snap’ the picture is taken. This guy completely orchestrated the entire moment and you can see the result above.”
Dan Gurney trivia:
- After winning the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans with AJ Foyt in the Ford GT, Dan sprayed the crowd with champagne, a practice carried on in many victory lane celebrations to this day.
- AAR did not always stand for All American Racers. While working on the F1 cars at Rye, Sussex, England in 1966 he named the group Anglo American Racers.
- Because he was so tall, Ford GT master fabricator, Phil Remington, made a bubble over the cockpit called “the Gurney Bubble” thus allowing the 6 foot 4 inch driver to fit. (won that race, the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans with AJ Foyt)
- He was the first F1 driver to wear a full face helmet in 1968. Now everyone wears that style.
- Only American driver to win a F1 race in a car of his own design and construction, Eagle Westlake at 1967 Belgian Gran Prix.
- The little aluminum angle lip on the wings which allowed downforce yet not a great deal of drag first showed on his Eagles thus earning the name “Gurney Flap”.
Restoration project going on
In an earlier episode, I mentioned that I was looking for a race car restoration project to help with or report about. Well the Northern Maine Antique Tractor Club project is not exactly a race car, however, it certainly is interesting.
Regular reader Dan Raymond, has kept me aware of the club’s 2018 project. Upon his invitation, we headed to the shop where the project was going on. Despite high winds and extreme cold, my reception was warm.
I met with several members of the tractor club who also braved the elements to work on their project. Members will make the trip every Saturday for the next couple months to ensure that the project tractor is ready for its unveiling at the Northern Maine Agri-Business Trade Show at the Forum in Presque Isle in late March.
The “Flying Farmer” getting ready for pulling season
Tis the off-season and several antique tractor pullers are preparing their machines for competition at the antique tractor pulls held by NMATC or similar organizations. Clutches are being replaced, brackets made, tires purchased as well as a myriad of other projects on to-do lists around northern Maine and western New Brunswick.
Tyler Raymond, known as “The Flying Farmer” is no exception. Late last year he and his father, Dan Raymond, purchased a 1940 Farmall BN which they plan on using this year in the smaller 2,500 pound weight class. They also have a Farmall C which they pulled with success in the 3,000 & 3,500 pound classes. Tyler was points champion in the 3,000 pound class.
The “new” tractor required a different block since the original was cracked. After finding a suitable donor block, they were able to get it cleaned up and gone over. The next few months before the season opener, father and son will be doing the many little things needed to make a tractor competitive and reliable.
This type of father/son, daughter/father, or family interaction is what makes a sport like antique tractor pulling attractive to me. The pullers seem to be friendly and helpful to one another. The cost is relatively low, considering other forms of tractor or truck pulling. I hope to be able to attend a pull or two this season. The schedule, when released, can be found on their website www.nmatc.org
Gurney Mercury Spoiler II on display by Warren Reynolds
Earlier in this week I noticed a few photos from Warren Reynolds of Lancaster, California after he posted them to the Dan Gurney and the All American Racers Fan Group site. The photos were of the Gurney labeled 1969 Mercury Spoiler II, a car I had long forgotten about.
In fact the 351 Windsor powered Spoiler II often was hidden in the background behind its cousin the more powerful 428 CJ Ford Torino Talladega which was fighting the battle in NASCAR against the winged Dodge Daytonas and later the Plymouth Superbirds.
I contacted Warren about using the cars in my blog this week for a couple of reasons; I like to feature unique cars that I find interesting and I like things related to Dan Gurney.
Little did we know that our hero would pass away the same week so it is with great honor that I present Warren’s cars to you.
IndyCar racer Charlie Kimball affected by California wildfires
Please pray for the Gurney family; his wife Evi, sons Justin, Alex, Jimmy and Dan Junior. The death of Dan Gurney has left a void in my heart.
Let’s go racing,
Soli Deo Gloria