RIP Dan Gurney. 1931-2018

RIP Dan Gurney. 1931-2018. One of the all-time greats of American and World Motorsport has passed. But what a great life, lived to the full for 86 years. Among countless other victories, Dan won the 1,000km race at the Nürburgring with Stirling Moss in 1960; in 1967 he became the only American to win a Formula 1 race in a car designed and built by his own company and the same year started the tradition of spraying the champagne when he won the Le Mans 24 hour race with AJ Foyt. He introduced full face helmets to both Indy cars and F1. In a tribute article in 2000, Joe Rusz of Road & Track magazine called him ‘A Renaissance Man’. Dan Gurney was an absolute legend of motorsport, as both a driver and engineer, but also living proof that nice guys can win.

And he was as enthusiastic about motorcycles as he was about cars – with his sons and colleagues at his company All American Racers in California he designed, built and successfully sold the Alligator feet first motorcycle back at the turn of the new century. Timed by Cycle World magazine, it did 0-30mph in 1.1 seconds and 0-60mph in 3.1 secs – the fastest accelerating FF ever! Top speed was somewhere on the far side of 130mph.

I first met Dan in the pits at the 2003 Goodwood Festival of Speed, where he rode an Alligator up the famous hill at considerable speed. I’d gone forearmed with a folder full of FF material and he listened politely, and with apparent interest, to what I had to say. He said that if I was ever out in LA I should come and have a ride on an Alligator.

Fast Forward to December 2011 and I found myself in LA for the launch of the Yamaha Tmax530. Afterwards, with the help and hospitality of film maker Peter Starr, who had known Dan for decades, I was able to take up Dan’s kind invitation, visit the AAR workshops in Santa Ana and go for a ride to Ortega Canyon and back with his champion racer son Alex. It was one of the most enjoyable rides, and one of the most enjoyable days, of my whole life. I remain eternally grateful to Dan and his sons Justin and Alex, to his personal assistant Kathy Weida, and to Peter Starr for making it all happen.

The following year the whole 2012 Goodwood Revival was themed around Dan Gurney, complete with replicas of the 1964 ‘Dan Gurney for President’ posters, and it was great to see Dan again, and to hear Lord March deliver a great speech in his honour on the main straight of the Goodwood circuit, before Dan replied with a gracious speech of his own.

I just wish I’d been able to get back to Santa Ana to see the great man – along with the latest development of the Alligator – before he passed away. RIP Dan, it was an honour and a truly great pleasure to spend some time with you and to ride two of your wonderful Alligator motorcycles.

I can do no better than end with his wife Evi’s words on the notification of Dan’s passing: ‘With one last smile on his handsome face, Dan drove off into the unknown just before noon today, January 14th, 20018. 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’.

I wrote an article about my visit to AAR and the ride on the Gurney Alligators for The Rider’s Digest, April 2012 (cover shot of No.165) and in tribute to him, a version of it is now up on the TRD website here:

There are lots more photos of Dan and the Alligators in the Gurney Alligators folder of the commercial section of bikeweb, here:

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More on Dan Gurney

Well done Elecffan for getting the bikeweb address - in the form of a link to the Alligator section - into the BTL comments in the Guardian article on Dan Gurney.

Dan Gurney was responsible for putting together two outifts that were to transform motor racing. Colin Chapman's Lotus cars and the Ford Motor Company, a relationship that led directly to Kieth Duckworth and the 'Ford' Cosworth DFV, the most successful racing engine ever built. He was also involved in the arrival of rear-engined cars in Indianopolis and Ford's apppearance at Le Mans with the GT40's.

Basically his record as a racing driver is at least matched by the positive impact he had on international motor racing.

5min Goodwood Video Tribute to Dan

Goodwood uploaded a great 5 minute video tribute to Dan Gurney a few days after his death in January 2018. It includes a few seconds of him riding the Alligator FF up the hill, with accompanying voice-over from Dan: "It's 708cc, fuel-injected, a little over 70bhp". There's also some great archive footage of Dan in his heyday. PNB. See here: