Dan Gurney: The Boy in The Bubble.
Big Dan Gurney is a man of firsts.
He was the first to win races in four classes- Sports Car, Formula One, NASCAR and Indy Car. And of course, the first to win Le Mans at the wheel of a Ford motor car, his head swathed in that famous GT40 bubble.
He was – along with AJ Foyt- the first American to win Le Mans.
In 1968 in the German Grand Prix he became the first driver to wear a full face helmet and in a more lighthearted legacy he is credited with starting the Formula One tradition of wasting good booze on the podium.
From the early 1950s to 1970 he was one of the most consistent and versatile drivers around and perhaps more than any other of his era his career has been entwined with Ford engines.
When Gurney was sixteen his opera singer father retired and moved the family to Riverside, California where the boy soon fell for the prolific hot rodding scene in this heartland of American road racing.
It was on those makeshift, tree lined, weekend road courses that he learned to race, building his own 130mph racecar at the age of 19.
Less than ten years later and this all American hero was racing Formula One cars in Europe, witnessing first hand the revolution in car design going on here. He was desperate to win the Indy 500 at home and figured the European ‘Funny Cars’ might be the answer.
So Gurney flew our own Colin Chapman- Lotus founder and genius engineer- out to Gasoline Alley and had him watch the big beasts fight it out in the Indianapolis 500.
Next season Chapman brought back three cars for big Dan to race. With Lotus bodies with Ford Fairline engines, Gurney and Chapman had bought the ‘Funny Cars’ to America and Big Dan began a career long relationship with Ford.
For seven years Gurney drove Ford engines in the Indy series, with either Lotus or Eagle bodies.
But it was in the great battle of Ford vs Ferrari that the Gurney-Ford brand was forged. Drafted in by Carroll Shelby for the American attack on Le Mans in Ford’s GT40 super cars- Dan Gurney finished in the winning car.
A first for him, a first for Ford and a first for America.
His ultra un-European treatment of the podium toast was a Yankee two fingers to Enzo Ferrari and the other Euro snobs of the sport that has since stuck with F1.
Aptly enough this American, who had so often been first among Europeans, finished his career both in a Ford and in England, belting his McLaren Ford around Silverstone in the 1970 British Grand Prix.
But in reality, there’s something about that lantern-jawed portraiture that screams Ford (of the American persuasion). And with that we will always be enthralled.
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